When Sherri Dugger first organized a meeting in early January in sub-zero Indiana weather to see if a female farmer chapter within the Indiana Farmers Union should be started, she got her answer when 20 fellow women in ag showed up.
Since January, Females Farming Forward has become home to 15 forward-thinking female Hoosier farmers and is the first of its kind in the history of the Indiana Farmers Union and its parent organization, the National Farmers Union.
Their mission? To unite diverse female farmers, support one another, and raise awareness of each member’s agricultural endeavors.
“We hope to provide a space for women where they will feel comfortable and supported in their agriculture endeavors, and we hope to also organize educational events that will help them learn and grow their operations,” Dugger said.
Dugger, who is the media and outreach director for the Indiana Farmers Union and also owns Dugger Family Farm with her husband, Randy, said this isn’t the first chapter she has organized under the Indiana Farmers Union umbrella as more and more specialty groups are needed.
“Over the past year, we have been working to form chapters under the Indiana Farmers Union to provide opportunities for education, networking, and growth for our family farmers,” Dugger said. “These chapters have been forming around production methods, belief systems, etc.”
For example, the Indiana Farmers Union now has an industrial hemp chapter, made up of Hoosier farmers who are fighting for the right to grow industrial hemp in Indiana. They also have a food access chapter that’s working on food access issues in various parts of the state. They are now working on forming a regenerative agriculture chapter, which will focus on Indiana farmers who use holistic land management systems.
“We envision plenty more chapters being formed over the next few years … chapters that will focus on things like organic growing, food as medicine, permaculture, and more,” Dugger said.
Dugger said historically, chapters have been formed within geographic areas. For instance, a Marion County chapter would have been formed, bringing farmers of all types together to try to work together on issues specifically in Marion County.
“We realize that in today’s modern world, this doesn’t always work. Farmers are passionate about their processes, and one farmer’s work can look quite different from another,” Dugger said. “We want to make sure that Indiana Farmers Union meets these farmers where they are and helps them to envision and achieve their goals.”
This past weekend Females Farming Forward hosted their first event, Circle City Seed and Plantling Swap, offering guests a chance to purchase and/or trade seeds and plantlings in time for the start of the 2018 growing season.
“Overall, I felt it was a really terrific first event. We had several people set up to swap their seeds and farm items and we had speakers lined up throughout the day,” Dugger said. “The event, in my mind, had a great vibe and was a terrific way to kick off the chapter’s first year.”
The chapter is seeking additional members to grow its participation in community events and state presence in coming years. The only requirement for joining is that the chapter member must first join the Indiana Farmers Union.
“As a chapter, we also are able to go to the state union for funds, support, and to voice our opinions and vote on member elections, etc., so everyone needs to be an INFU member in order to do so,” Dugger said. “Female farmers, as well as women involved in agriculture or food systems are encouraged to join.”
As for events Females Farming Forward is still organizing and deciding on what events they will have this year and in coming years. There is talk of even taking the chapter to a national level at some point.
“We would love to see a national female farmer chapter under the National Farmers Union, and we have discussed the possibility of organizing something like this in the future,” Dugger said. “National Farmers Union already offers wonderful programs for women farmers through its annual Women’s Conference, which takes place each year.”
For now, Females Farming Forward is focused on growing membership locally, increasing the number of educational opportunities pertinent to female farmers, and becoming a trusted source of networking and fellowship for women in agriculture.
“Groups like these are important because we are promoting the sustainable production of food, fiber, feed, and fuel for our state,” Dugger said. “We are not only supporting our Indiana family farmers, but we are also providing opportunities to build local food systems, to encourage strong and healthy rural and urban communities, and to promote environmental sustainability.”