Online workshop empowers women farmers to manage business risk during the pandemic

R.G. Brumfield, M. Flahive Di Nardo, A.J. Both, J. Heckman, A. Rowe, R. VanVranken, M. Bravo
During the early months of the pandemic in New Jersey, non-essential businesses were ordered to close, and residents were urged to stay home. However, agricultural operations and farm markets were considered essential and remained open. A team of Rutgers University faculty held an online workshop in November of 2021 specifically targeting women farmers. The goals of the program were to identify marketing techniques for maintaining new customers, provide risk management strategies and give the farmers an opportunity to discuss their challenges and success during the pandemic with their peers. The workshop was organized as part of the ongoing activities of Annie’s Project New Jersey, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2021. The two-and-a-half-hour workshop on managing and mitigating farm risks included a keynote presentation, presentations by experts on farm practices and five key areas of farming business risks (Production, Marketing, Financial, Legal, and Human) and three breakout sessions (Succession planning, Marketing, and Crop production). An all-women grower panel then shared their pandemic related business risk stories. New Jersey agriculture is very diverse, and this was reflected in attendance. The workshop participants reported they were engaged in equine operations, and production of livestock (beef, sheep, goats, hogs), poultry, grains, hay, cut flowers, herbs, vegetables, tree fruit, bedding plants, berries, and agrotourism. Overall, the initial anecdotal feedback received from many workshop participants was incredibly positive. A six month follow-up survey was completed by ten program participants. Three survey respondents indicated they used one of the following production strategies on their farm or have started using them as a result of attending the production break out session: used municipal leaf compost on farm fields, composted food waste, planted cover crops, used grass clippings as a mulch/fertilizer, developed a farm site plan, used livestock to assist with crop production, and used companion plantings. Survey respondents indicated that the most useful tips from the grower panel were implementing pandemic protocols, becoming a one-stop shopping destination, participation in farmers’ markets, how best to support employees about interacting with customers during the pandemic, and how to establish a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. Survey respondents thought that the following strategies were important to bringing and maintaining new customers to their business since the pandemic began: offer contactless payment and pick-up, offer delivery service and use online advertising. As a result of workshop participation, a survey respondent took the following actions: engaged with financial and legal advisors and reviewed her personal medical insurance coverage. Survey respondents indicated their interest in participating in future workshops with a focus on managing production costs, adopting to climate change, managing farm labor, improving soil health, and raising livestock.
Brumfield, R.G., Flahive Di Nardo, M., Both, A.J., Heckman, J., Rowe, A., VanVranken, R. and Bravo, M. (2023). Online workshop empowers women farmers to manage business risk during the pandemic. Acta Hortic. 1368, 315-322
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2023.1368.40
Annie’s Project, farm management, farm risk, resiliency, risk management, urban farming, women empowerment

Acta Horticulturae