Peggy Cole, HMI Project Manager for our Beginning Farmers & Ranchers: Women in Texas program recently filed this report….
The first gathering of the program was September 20-21, 2012 at Austin’s Center for Environmental Research (CER) at the Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant, a rare partnership of the University of Texas and Texas A&M University to support urban ecology and sustainability studies for Austin. The facility is quite luxurious and fascinating. CER director Kevin Anderson not only let us meet, he treated the group to a tour and talk about the facility’s cutting edge reuse of wastewater, biosolids and the city’s collected tree and lawn waste.
Great biodiversity is present both because the sewage treatment plant is managed to encourage wildlife and because of the diversity of habitats at the site stretching along 3.5 miles of the Colorado River. One measure of this biodiversity is that Hornsby Bend is nationally known as one of the best birding sites in Texas – harboring over 370 species of birds and an abundance of other wildlife. We thought this site would be ideal for the intro class because Kevin is a long time practitioner of Holistic Management and because it exemplifies the planning and innovation toward a goal that we are introducing with this class.
The class consists of 31 women farmers and ranchers, 4 mentors, a coordinator and an instructor. Holistic Management Certified Educator Peggy Sechrist started on time and dove right in with the intro lesson. We took a break after about a half-hour and gathered in a circle to do some getting-to-know-you games.
The afternoon class had more opportunity for discussion as we worked through several actual decisions from the class members. Encouraged by the accepting attitudes and freely offered advice of their fellow students, more and more volunteered to present their dilemmas for discussion.
The coordinator and 4 mentors met after class to discuss the class and divide them among the mentors. Kathy Harris has experience with small dairies and poultry. She wanted to mentor those who had dairy enterprises. Laurie Bostic is well versed in vegetable farming and volunteered to mentor those specializing in vegetables. The rest of the ladies are livestock producers. We divided them between Holistic Management Certified Educator Peggy Maddox and Betsy Ross based on brittleness, with Peggy taking those west of the Balcones Escarpment (more brittle) and Betsy taking those east of the escarpment (less brittle).
The coordinator created a spreadsheet of the 31 students with mentor matches that evening and made the assignments to the class just before lunch on day 2, asking the groups to gather and have lunch together.
Day 2 was Time Management. Peggy Sechrist presented information about the different ways people organize themselves and their time based on right-brain dominance or left-brain dominance. These ladies were relieved to know they are not alone and their various oddball ways are not wrong if they work for them.
Many of the women were especially glad to see this class with the methodology of charting all tasks on a single sheet for easy assessment. They seemed to enjoy listing everything they have to do in a day—perhaps as a source of pride—and quickly realized why they are tired and overwhelmed. One of the students had her laptop and created excel spreadsheets to take the place of the worksheets and grazing planning charts for those who prefer to use it. Very helpful.
After lunch we had a guest speaker. Marisa Alcorta from NCAT had flown in from California to help with out project. She did 4 farm visits the day before class, then sat in for both days of class. Her 20 minute talk was about the ATTRA resource and how to assess farmers’ markets as a place to market your production. She offered these ladies a free Saturday tour of a top farmers’ market in Austin with help in assessment skills, information on starting a farmers’ market and individual consulting sessions of 20 minutes each.
The rest of the day was spent working independently or in small groups to chart their tasks. Plans were made for our next meeting October 29-30 at Montesino Ranch. The ladies volunteered to organize themselves to gather food for a group cooking experience the evening between the classes to further the bonding of the group.
Not only did the women have a great time, they learned a lot. Here are the results of the participants session surveys…
100% Intend to implement time management tools & processes
97% Confident in ability to manage their time on their farm
93% Confident in ability to make complex decisions on their farm
93% Feel confident using the testing questions
Here’s what they said were the most useful things they learned….
The seven testing questions
Time management skills
Use of planning worksheets
Focusing on specific goals