A collage of seven photos taken from the 23rd Annual Women in Agriculture Conference

23rd Annual Mid-Atlantic Women in Agriculture Conference

February 23, 2024 Written by Michele Walfred, Communications Specialist

The 23rd annual Mid-Atlantic Women in Agriculture Conference, with more than 200 in attendance, was held on Feb. 15, 2024, at the Chesapeake Bay Beach Club in Stevensville, Maryland. Five UD extension staff led workshops at the event.

For the past two decades, the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension has partnered with the University of Maryland Extension with a mission to educate, engage, and empower women involved in local or family businesses such as wineries, creameries, agritourism venues as well as traditional agriculture production. The annual Women In Ag(WIA) conference is only one way the organization meets its mission.

 

Workshops and Programs

Throughout the year, the coalition offers educational one-hour online workshops, ‘Wednesday Webinars.’  The group also adopted Annie’s Project, a comprehensive, multi-week risk management program that provides in-depth outreach on risk, business and financial management for family farm operations.

Laurie Wolinksi was there from the beginning, chairing the first Women in Ag conference in Delaware in 2002 and subsequently expanding the conference to a regional event. Then, as a risk management extension agent at the University of Delaware, Wolinski has served an integral role ever since. She brought the Annie’s Project to Delaware in 2006. In addition to her role as an extension agent, Wolinksi serves as Director of the Northeast Extension Risk Management Education Center

Wolinksi’s current extension work focuses on farm and farmer well-being and stress. To that end, she collaborates with Maria Pippidis, an extension educator who has taught extensively in mitigating personal stress related to farm families. Together, they presented a workshop to build resilience by identifying character strengths and engaging in positive communication.

“This conference has served as a place for women to be recognized among their peers for their resilience and their collective contributions to the ag industry,” Wolinksi said. “It also serves as a venue for learning new skills and strategies to benefit their farm and family."

Two Photos which include, Left Photo: Tracy Wooten, Michele Walfred, Maria Pippidis and Laurie Wolinksi

 

Exhibitors, Sponsors and Sessions

Attendees also benefit from engaging with exhibitors and sponsors, including finance and credit, insurance, media, energy, various trades and products, and government agencies such as the Delaware and Maryland Departments of Agriculture and the US Department of Agriculture. 

UD Cooperative Extension staff led two other breakout sessions. In the morning, Tracy Wootten, an extension agent in horticulture, and Michele Walfred, a communications specialist, presented how smartphones can easily serve as a foundational tool for creating promotional videos. With affordable microphones and other accessories, workshop attendees interviewed one another, filmed background footage, and photographed conference scenes. The content was assembled and edited on the spot. The video aired at the end of the conference.

Since 2010, Wootten has enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate local agriculture and the people in it. She’s happy to see how the organization has evolved by keeping up with new techniques and topics. “I recall sessions early on explaining what was Facebook and how to use it, and this year we discussed the pros and cons of Artificial Intelligence,” she said, “The topics are timely, and the conference’s relevance continues to attract new people each year.”

Wootten places a high value on networking. “It’s great to catch up with those who have been in the business for 30-plus years and also see high school FFA students attending for the first time.”

 

Connections and Networking

A poultry farmer, Georgie Cartanza didn’t attend the conference until she began her UD career as the state poultry extension agent in 2016. She’s been a part of the partnership since, attending each annual meeting and sharing her experience and expertise for Annie’s Project sessions focusing on family-run poultry businesses.

“As both a farmer and extension educator, the conference offers women in agriculture an opportunity to connect with other women in ag, allowing them to network and share their stories of success, failure, and encouragement,” remarked Cartanza.  “The presentations are thought-provoking,  offering different perspectives, strategies, and information that help the women who attend grow and evolve in their knowledge to improve the success of their agricultural enterprises.”

In an afternoon session, Emmalea Ernest, UD assistant professor, plant and soil sciences and extension fruit and vegetable specialist, was joined by her husband, Jeremy. They shared how planting meadows of native warm-season grasses and perennial wildflowers on their family farm provides enhanced habitat for pollinating insects, birds and other wildlife. The Ernests use hay from the meadow to mulch their blueberry and strawberry fields and appreciate the meadow as a place of beauty.

Although she has often attended the conference, this year was the first time Ernest presented a session.  

“When I attended the Women in Agriculture Conference in the past, the talks I found most interesting were the ones where the speaker shared the history of their farm business or about a particular project or enterprise they had started on their farm,” Ernest said. “Jeremy and I enjoyed the opportunity to give a talk along those same lines and the interaction with conference participants.”


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