Sweet Briar College and American Farmland Trust collaborate on programming

Posted on January 31, 2020 by Dana Poleski

Sweet Briar College and American Farmland Trust have agreed to collaborate on a number of programming initiatives that will support the future of women in agriculture, natural resource management and conservation.

The collaboration will begin with the 2020 – 2021 school year and plans include hosting a one-day conference on agriculture in Virginia and related issues across the Southeast, inviting program leaders from AFT to speak to students at the College, providing internship opportunities for Sweet Briar students at AFT, and using the College as a host site for an AFT Women for the Land Learning Circle for the Mid-Atlantic region. There may also be future opportunities to partner on scientific field-based and social science research.

“Agriculture is the leading private industry in Virginia, and more women are participating in this business and managing farmlands,” said Sweet Briar President Meredith Woo, in announcing the alliance. “The partnership with American Farmland Trust is an opportunity to work with a national organization that shares our commitment to educating women and giving them the opportunity to lead in an industry that has an impact on the lives of every citizen.”

Gabrielle Roesch-McNally, national director for AFT’s Women for the Land initiative, is also grateful for the blooming relationship between the two organizations. “This partnership with Sweet Briar will allow us to explore creative ways to advance the mission of American Farmland Trust. It will enable us to engage women students as well as farmers, landowners and educators so we can better steward and protect our shared agricultural interests both now and in the future.”

The partnership is timely. Women are an increasingly important part of agriculture in the United States. As of 2017, women made up 36 percent of all agriculture producers in the country. These female-operated farms accounted for 38 percent of U.S. agriculture sales – $148 billion annually – and 43 percent of U.S. farmland.

Over the last year, Sweet Briar College has established an apiary, planted a wildflower habitat and 20 acres of grapevines, and constructed a 27,000-square-foot greenhouse. It is integrating these agricultural initiatives with its academic program and its new Center for Human and Environmental Sustainability to offer hands-on learning and research opportunities as well as demonstration projects. These activities will involve students, faculty, alumnae and the wider population of Central Virginia.

The College’s interests in agriculture, sustainability and natural resource management provide a unique opportunity for young women who are interested in becoming leaders in those areas and complement its women’s leadership core curriculum. Furthermore, in recent years, the College has seen an increase in the number of alumnae who are engaged in farming, ranching and other agricultural and environmental professions. “We are excited to offer those alumnae the opportunity to be a part of this collaboration as well,” says Claire Griffith, senior director of alumnae relations and development at Sweet Briar.

AFT, meanwhile, has established the Women for the Land initiative, which seeks to engage women who own and manage farmland and ranchland across the country. The program convenes special events and learning circles that assemble, train and support women farmers and landowners. AFT was founded in 1980 to save America’s farms and ranches. As a result of AFT’s work, millions of acres of farmland that otherwise would have been converted for other development purposes remain in farming and tens of thousands of farmers and ranchers have adopted better farming practices.