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Statewide Homegrown 0

Arkansas Women in Agriculture


Last December, my husband and I bought a small farm in Northwest Arkansas. With no previous experience in farming, we jumped into a completely new lifestyle. But we’re not alone. Agriculture is Arkansas’s largest industry and 97% of those farms are family-owned. Arkansas Women in Agriculture (ARWIA) is a non-profit organization that exists to support women involved in agriculture at any level.

Arkansas Women in Agriculture

Nationally, women comprise 30% of the farming population. In 2005, Dr. Jennie Popp of the University of Arkansas decided to bring women across the state together to form a community of women farmers and provide ongoing educational opportunities. Arkansas Women in Agriculture held their first conference in 2006. For the last 10 years, they’ve held a conference in March in Little Rock where women can attend sessions on a variety of subjects that touch on agriculture today, from business aspects to farming techniques, family life, risk management and financial education. “We try to find topics to meet the wide range of diversity in Arkansas,” says ARWIA president Melissa Beck.

Arkansas is a diverse state agriculturally. It ranks in the top 10 producers nationwide in rice, cotton, poultry, eggs, catfish, sorghum and soybeans. Despite that, the farm industry is in decline across the country. Only 2% of the population is involved in agriculture. “I see our industry shrinking,” Beck, a lifelong farm girl, says. “We have to think in terms of food security.” Reaching out to other women to involve them in agriculture is one of the reasons why she’s serving as president of ARWIA.

Arkansas Women in Agriculture

Besides the yearly conference, ARWIA is bringing back a program called “Annie’s Project.” Originally, the project brought risk management workshops to women across the state from 2007-2011. The relaunched version will have a much broader reach. ARWIA is working with agricultural extension agents to train them to teach workshops county by county, where each workshop can focus on the needs of women farmers in that area. The first Annie’s Project workshop will take place in Texarkana in the fall of 2016.

Arkansas Women in Agriculture supports women across the state, but what does a member look like? Just like agriculture within the state, the answer is varied. Many women, like me, were not raised on a farm and are seeking information and a way to help fill their knowledge gaps. The conference is a great place for these women to gather, learn and meet others jumping into the industry.

Other members have been involved in farming for years, but their situation has changed and they now find themselves managing the entire operation and need assistance on how to handle the business aspect, financial side or day-to-day operations of the farm.

Some women, like Melissa Beck, have been involved in agriculture their entire lives but look to ARWIA to help them expand their knowledge and learn new techniques that will help them succeed. ARWIA accepts all women who have an interest in agriculture at any level, whether they’re currently farming, grew up on a farm, or are in the initial research stage of making a transition into the industry.

Arkansas Women in Agriculture

ARWIA is run completely by volunteers, so pulling off a major conference each year plus implementing the new Annie’s project workshops and other educational opportunities mean the time and efforts of many generous volunteers, some of whom aren’t farmers or women. ARWIA welcomes the help of anyone who wants to advance women farmers in the state. The group also awards a scholarship each year to a college student focusing on an agricultural major, and they have conference waivers available for women who want to attend the conference and can’t afford it. Members receive a discount to the conference and a quarterly newsletter with updates on women in agriculture across the state, in addition to the connections they make to the farming community.

Arkansas Women in Agriculture

If you’d like to join Arkansas Women in Agriculture, or volunteer for the group, you can find more information online at arkansaswomeninag.com. Follow ARWIA on Facebook for updates on women in agriculture, Annie’s Project and more.


Photos by ARWIA members and used with permission.

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Kimberly S. Mitchell loves journeys, real or imagined. She has hiked the Inca Trail, walked into Panama on a rickety wooden bridge and once missed the last train of the night in Paris and walked several miles home (with friends). She believes magic can be found in life and books, loves to watch the stars appear, and still dreams of backpacking the world. Now she writes adventures to send her characters on journeys, too. Pen & Quin: International Agents of Intrigue - The Mystery of the Painted Book is her debut novel. Find out more at KSMitchell.com.

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