Building Stronger Communities: AWN's Inaugural Farm Forum
It started as a vintage idea based on the 1941 National Farm Radio Forum. With some alterations based on our (now) years of experience with virtual events, came Ag Women’s Inaugural Farm Forum. I can say inaugural with confidence as I know this event will become an annual in-person and virtual event into the future for AWN.
Community was the theme of the event; as AWN prides itself on our strong online community. We have been able to connect women who because of location, work and family life,are often unable to drive to in-person events. Our goal for the event was to discuss and celebrate what makes a community.
Nine women volunteered to host in-person events, with each host making it their own by altering start times to suit their participants, and had locations vary from homes to feed mills and libraries. For those who were not able to attend an in-person event there was a virtual event run through AWN’s closed Facebook group with a moderator guiding everyone through the same questions that the in-person hosts provided.
When asked to describe their community many members expressed that they are part of many ‘communities’ from hometowns, Ag commodity groups, work, sports and parenting roles. One member described it as “More than one, gathered together for a cause, a passion, or belief”. There was also an ongoing theme of the struggle to find acceptance and involvement in a new community. Those moving away from a rural setting into a city found it hard to find people to connect with, and similarly people moving into a rural community either from another rural community or city found it hard to settle in as well. The agriculture community is often looked upon as a tight-knit friendly community, but for a newcomer it is often hard to fit in; with members commenting that they have been in a community for 20 years and still don't feel like they belong.
There’s an ease of finding comfort and belonging with like minded people. There was an overwhelming sentiment of the importance of reaching out to those different than yourself and bridging the gap to encourage people with different perspectives to join your community, or to join communities out of your immediate comfort zone.
Many communities find challenges with there being decisions made that we do not agree with, one member stated “In communities there are multiple players, opinions and agendas. Finding a balance between your own opinions and the needs of the greater community can be very hard. Strong leadership, consultation, and focus on really listening can make a community stronger.”
Volunteering was found to be a great way to integrate into a community. There are countless avenues of interest or service groups to join, and having someone invite them to join would go a long way to making them feel welcome in a new community. Many responses stressed the importance of encouraging volunteerism, but many also acknowledged how hard it is to find time depending on what stage of life you are in. Retirees are often the ones who have the most time, and many of those with kids or jobs they have to travel a distance to get to, struggle to find time to volunteer. Some members said that they would change what things they volunteer for to match the phase of their life, eg being involved in their child’s school or sports events when kids are young, and more time-intensive boards when they are retired and have the time to travel and be away from family and business. One response was “Feelings of involvement are based on personality (introvert vs. extroverts); family priorities (commitment to leisure, to spirituality, to work/wealth accumulation); and personal commitment to social responsibility.
Speaking on behalf of Joan Craig and myself as well as the whole AWN Leadership Team, we are so incredibly grateful to all of the volunteer hosts for the in-person and virtual events, and all of the members who were so enthusiastic and gave us lots of content to think about for the next AWN Farm Forum, and other AWN events going into the future.