WiWiC’s Educator Conference Set For April

Jean Eells and Rebecca Christoffel will headline the upcoming Wisconsin Women in Conservation Educator Network Conference on April 28 in Stevens Point.

The conference theme is “Lighting the Fire with Women Landowners.” The day-long, non-traditional event will run from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Sentry World Atrium. Space is limited and registration is open now at WiWiC.org. 

What is the key ingredient to supporting Wisconsin women who want to learn how to best steward their land? According to research done by Eells and Christoffel for over two decades, the answer is conservation educators who understand and use educational strategies and outreach that work best for women.

WiWiC, a national leader in women-focused conservation education, is hosting this first-of-its-kind gathering to bring together conservation educators from across the state to learn about these best practices to support the increasingly powerful and growing demographic of women landowners. Women are now 35 percent of the primary operators on Wisconsin’s farmland. Twenty-two percent of the women in this group have been farming for 10 years or less. 

“I feel it’s so important to learn to work with women landowners on conservation because women own or co-own almost half of the agricultural land in the USA, including Wisconsin,” says Christoffel. “In addition, women generally view their land as community rather than commodity and are interested in learning how all of the pieces fit together. This mindset is a natural fit for ecology and conservation.”

Christoffel’s work focuses on the human dimensions of natural resources management. She’s served as the State Wildlife Extension Biologist and a faculty member at Iowa State University. Christoffel is now a researcher at E Resources Group, and is the primary evaluator on the WiWiC project. She and her husband steward 30 acres of restored prairie on the Wisconsin/Illinois border.

“At this conference we will introduce the Learning Circle model and how it works to support best practices in women landowner education, based on years of research in how women land stewards learn best,” says Eells, the founder of E Resources Group, and the leading researcher in this subject nationally. She facilitates the evaluation component of WiWiC.

“Our research has shown that peer-based, interactive learning environments work extremely well to provide support for women to take action on conservation plans and vision for their land,” she adds.

Eells works from the prairie pothole region of north central Iowa, and partners closely with her tenant to care for the family farmland. She has operated E Resources Group, LLC since 1997. In 2021, Eells won Conservation Professional of the Year from the International Soil and Water Conservation Society, Conservationist of the Year from the National Professional Organization of Women in NRCS, and Iowa Woman Conservationist given by the Conservation Districts of Iowa and the NRCS Federal Women’s Program in Iowa.

“This whole conference will very intentionally reflect the interactive Learning Circle approach to women’s education, reflecting how our research shows that women best learn by interacting with each other,” says Christoffel. “Anyone interested in this topic is welcome to come, whether you are a conservation volunteer or paid staff, to experience creating welcoming settings for women-focused education and bring home new ideas for your work.”

The WiWiC Educator Conference will also include opportunities for conservation educators to network, connect and mentor each other. The conference partner organizations will have resources available to further strengthen educator toolkits. All Wisconsin conservation educators, both men and women, who are interested in learning effective ways of working with women landowners are welcome, from agency staff to non-profit organizations and educators in volunteer roles. Conservationists early in their careers are encouraged to attend. Space is limited and the whole day session including lunch is $25 until April 1 ($35 after), thanks to support from NRCS Wisconsin and The Nature Conservancy. Scholarships are also available.