Episode 1 of the Shared Soil Podcast

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This first episode will cover the “meat and potatoes” of the podcast, who, what, why of women in agriculture. Special guest Kelly McAdam will give background on what the WIA program has been in the past and will share her experience and efforts in building this program. 

Transcript - by Otter AI


Kendall Kunelius  0:11  
Welcome to the first-ever episode of Shared Soil, a podcast dedicated to creating community, honoring challenges, and encouraging personal and professional growth for all people in agriculture. My name is Kendall Kunelius, and I'm an Extension field specialist focusing in agricultural business management.

Rebecca Dube  0:31  
My name is Rebecca Dube, and I provide program support and technology to the various specialists of UNH Extension.

Kendall Kunelius  0:39  
Which I think is a really simple way of saying what you actually do, Rebecca, you do a lot more than that!

Rebecca Dube  0:46  
Well, I support a lot of the different programs, and one of them includes the Natural Resources Program. But I come into Extension from a very varied background, whether it's been being a teacher or working with running a nonprofit. I've been in the hospital world and even a touch of the corporate world. So lots of different tastes.

Kendall Kunelius  1:09  
Yeah, I know the corporate feeling - came out of the corporate world to come into education. And I'm very excited about it.

Rebecca Dube  1:16  
Well, tell us a little bit more about you, Kendall. I know you've got a lot going on.

Kendall Kunelius  1:20  
That's one way to put it. Yes. So within Extension, I've been here about a year and a half, and I currently coordinate our Women in Agriculture program. I also work within our Livestock Business Management programming. But my background is a little bit of ag retail. Then I also competed as a professional timber sports competitor for eight years. I've since retired from that, so I can focus more on our Extension work.

Rebecca Dube  1:49  
You've found, then, being a woman in the timber field, you must have faced a lot of unique challenges of being in what is often seen as a pretty male-dominated field. So can you tell us a little bit about dealing with that?

Kendall Kunelius  2:03  
Yeah, so I think it's pretty safe to say that 90% of my motivation for working within our Women in Ag program comes from my experiences from competing in a very male-dominated field. And having said that, I've chosen to think about that experience in my time working within that area, less about the challenges and hardships and more about the opportunities for forward movement. So that's why I'm so interested in supporting women in agriculture. I've kind of translated from Forestry and Natural Resources into farming, but it's still really relevant. And I still feel like I'm the kind of person that can bring a perspective to this of understanding. Somebody who can also help move us forward and make some progress for women and create some spaces for them to learn, too. So when I came to Extension, I was really excited to hear that we had a Women in Ag program. I was very lucky to be on the same team as Kelly McAdam, because she's the one that was coordinating that program and working on those efforts. So we're incredibly lucky to have her here today as our very first podcast guest. So Kelly, welcome. Please give us a an introduction. Tell us who you are.

Kelly McAdam  3:13  
Sure. Well, thank you, Kendall. Thank you, Rebecca. I'm really happy to be here and talking about the Women in Ag program at UNH Extension. I've been working for UNH Extension for 12 years. I grew up on a dairy farm in the northern part of New Hampshire, a small family dairy. But I wasn't so interested in the cows as I was the plants. So I took care of the vegetable garden. We had a vegetable stand, we had a roadside stand, and I managed that right up through high school. From there, I went to UNH to get my degree in horticulture technology. But I really enjoyed the business side. I mean, I love the production side, but I saw where the business side was really important, the marketing, the accounting. So I decided to take a different path in that. I went and pursued my education, my further education in accounting, and then that's where I really got into the agriculture business management piece of farming. Life happened, I got married, I had a baby. And I always wanted to teach. I was a 4-H leader; I grew up in 4-H. So teaching was a big part of who I was, as well. So I went into teaching and I taught high school in a small K through 12, in the high school part of that school, for a couple of years. Then my husband wanted to go to UNH, so we moved down to the central part of the state where his family lives and I taught in that high school there for five years, before coming to Extension. So I was really able to work in the education space, but also really liked building those business skills. In the meantime, I also taught adult education to the schools. So I would get a lot of small business owners coming to my classes, who just needed some basic knowledge of developing a spreadsheet for their business or developing a website. But really, I got to know what their challenges were. Then I had this opportunity to apply for a job with Extension. That was before we really had specialized positions. We were the traditional County Ag agent. So I was excited to get back to agriculture, that's really a big piece of who I am. I was really excited about that position. But I kind of went into it thinking, well, I don't have a lot of experience. And I realized in that process of applying that the business skills that I had, and that education was really, really important. Fast forward a few years later, we began to specialize, and instead of county ag agents, we became field specialists, and I specialized in agriculture business management. So I really focused on everything. As a new employee, you're kind of finding your niche. I did marketing and I did record keeping and financial statements and a little bit of everything that I dabbled in. But I started to settle into taxes and record keeping at that point.

Rebecca Dube  6:36  
That's terrific, Kelly, can you tell us a little bit about Extension itself? I think sometimes we're the best kept secret in New Hampshire. What are some of the things that Extension provides for the community?

Kelly McAdam  6:51  
You know, Extension is such an important resource, no matter who you are. If you're a business owner, or you are a gardener, or you are a homeowner, or an active participant in a community organization, Extension has something for everyone. Extension is a research-based resource for the public. And we are based off of the land grant university, and UNH is our land grant here in New Hampshire. The idea behind Extension is that we take the research that is developed and everything that the researchers learn about and get that out to the public. We're non-biased, science-research based, is really our core values. No matter if you're in the farming world, if you're in the health world, or you're working with youth, or forestry, there's something there for everyone. The resources that we provide are generally free, which I think is a really special part of our services; it doesn't matter who you are. Whether you are someone who is very familiar with Extension or not, your abilities, whether you have a lot of knowledge in one area, or you have no knowledge whatsoever. I think we're very accessible no matter who you are in the States. Extension is in every state in our country as well. So no matter where you live, you have access to your land grant. And it really makes a direct connection to your land grant university.

Rebecca Dube  8:40  
Oh, that's amazing. Kelly. Can you also tell us then, about some of the program areas that you focused on? And how you got involved with the Women in Agriculture program?

Kelly McAdam  8:53  
Yeah, so as I mentioned, my core area is agriculture business management, so I started to develop my specific expertise in record keeping, business planning. I started working more and more with new farmers, but probably about 10 years ago, our ag business state specialist asked me about Annie's project. Now, Annie's project is a national program. It's a nonprofit. And the mission of Annie's project is to empower women in farm management through education, and Annie's Project has existed since about 2003. The idea is also that women learn best from other women, in that they are in a safe space. They're there to share their own experiences and learn from each other. Agriculture traditionally has been a male-dominated field. So there's a lot of opportunities there for women who maybe in the past have been seen as the farmer's wife, or the farmer's daughter, not really having a significant role out front, to really become empowered in farm management. And they're really doing a lot of important things on the farm, whether it's bookkeeping or the day-to-day chores, or really everything, recognizing that and empowering them to learn from one another. So my colleague asked me about offering this program, and I never really thought about women needing that space. I was a farm woman at one point myself and I firsthand experienced, you know, I'm driving a tractor and I'm filling up a pickup bed full of compost, and the customer is a man asking, where's my dad, and oh, you're gonna fill this up for me? So that was something I experienced all the time. My dad was a patient guy, and he taught me very well. But if I needed to learn from somebody else, that's not so easy. I think having a woman teacher teach that to you can be really helpful and really empowering. So the more I thought about it, I thought that would be a great opportunity to bring Annie's Project to New Hampshire.

Kendall Kunelius  11:21  
I wanted to respond to something you just said real quick, Kelly about the importance of women-driven programming. And something in Extension that we do is needs-assessment. I want to just ask you to expand a little bit more upon where Annie's Project fit into responding to the needs of people in our community in New Hampshire, because I think that's a really big piece of what enables us to do our jobs. We respond to the needs of the community. So how did you utilize that program to fit those needs?

Kelly McAdam  11:55  
Right. I should back up a little bit, because when I came into Extension, Annie's Project was not the first Women in Ag women farmer education program. There was an annual Women in Ag conference that had been going on for several years. I got to go to that a couple of times, and it was very well attended. So I knew there was something around this, there was an interest. So farm management seemed like a good place to focus on and which Annie's project, of course, is. That is the mission, is in farm management education, because a lot of times the women are the ones that are keeping the books, and keeping the records. That was the view that I had coming into it. Our first Annie's Project was offered in 2015. We filled that class, which was, again, another sentiment that there is a need, this is wanted in our state. And that really, motivated me to offer this again, and to keep exploring this program.

Rebecca Dube  13:14  
What are some of the things that the program is doing now? Where are we now with this program?

Kelly McAdam  13:22  
From that first program in 2015, I was thinking about, what more can we do with this? For one of the areas, I went back to my days of filling up that pickup bed with a load of compost. I bet there's women out there that need or would like to be taught how to drive a piece of equipment, or how to change the oil, or any number of skills in tractor maintenance. So that was one of my dreams. One of my visions for a spinoff from Annie's project was that program and in 2019, no, 2017 or 2018 I think, we offered our first class and again, we filled the class. So again, it brought me to the realization that yes, this is important, this is needed. But we've also spun off Annie's project in other ways, too. So I was noticing - we would offer an Annie's Project program, which is traditionally a three to four week program, where we meet three to four hours per week, typically in person. You can adjust that either way. You can have fewer sessions that are longer. It's really based on what are the women in the region in the state, what are they looking for? And that's an important component like when you're asking about needs-assessment. So one of the things I was noticing, we would offer that course every year, is that we had a lot of women who were coming from livestock farms. They were raising poultry they were raising cattle, they were raising pigs, sheep, everything. So I wondered. We try to fit a lot of information into a short span of time, whether it's three or four weeks or what have you. What if we could focus all of our farm management education on the livestock business component? Covering everything from marketing, to financial planning, to even getting into some of the production topics like animal health, and scheduling and rotational grazing. You know, another really interesting statistic is that women farmers traditionally are organic, they're growing organically, and they are working toward sustainable practices on their farm. So some of those concepts, like rotational grazing, would be really helpful. So that was our first women and livestock business course, which was, again, just like Annie's Project. It was just for women farmers, who were livestock farming. So that was a spin off there, and we filled the class. So again, it brings me back to okay, there's this need. Another really special part of that class is that the women also had field trips. We developed planned-out field trips for them as a follow-up to the class. But even outside of the field trips, we were planning for them, and they were planning their own field trips to each other's farms and building that network. That's another really important aspect of Annie's Project, is that the women have this network andthey call each other and ask questions. "I have piglets for sale, and I don't have anyone, but I just had more than I expected, do you know, of anyone that needs any piglets?" Things like that, that really developed those connections between the women.

Kendall Kunelius  17:05  
I want to just jump in real quick here. I think one of the important topics to address that we haven't quite touched on yet - we keep saying that Women in Ag is an identified group; we know that there's a need here. But I've gotten some pushback, at least within my programming, as we're starting this and putting programs out there. They're talking about,  are you being exclusionary by saying this is only for women? And we're not. I think what the important thing to acknowledge here is that the USDA does define women as an underserved population. So I personally feel like we have a really great opportunity. The work we're doing now is supporting people who have spoken up and said, we have a need, can you fill it? And we're saying, "Yes, we can, and here's why." But, Kelly, I didn't know if you had any reaction or anything you wanted to share in that sense of -  what makes this women programming so magical or energized? What is that feeling in there that really makes this so important to you?

Kelly McAdam  18:14  
I think for me, the moment that gives me goosebumps is when we're sitting in a room together. There was one in our women and livestock business program where we hadn't even started the class yet, like day one. And the women are just excited to be there. They're just sharing stories about their farrowing pigs. It was February, and everyone's pigs were farrowing. And that was what the conversation was, we hadn't even gotten to introductions. But there was just this energy. That really excites me, that I've helped to create the space. I've also had a woman come up to me and tell me that I changed her life by offering this program. So it's like things like that. When you experience that, just by offering something.  I'm not teaching everything, I'm just creating the space and designing the program based on the needs and based on the input that the women are telling me. These classes are open to everyone, so if a male wanted to participate, absolutely, we wouldn't turn him away. We can't turn him away. And we have had women that say, oh, you know, I can't make next week's class, can my husband fill in for me? And the answer is yes. I know other states have had men participate in their courses. And again, same thing, we don't turn men away. They are welcome if they would like to participate.

Kendall Kunelius  19:49  
Yeah, I think that's such an important point to make. If you want to learn, I want to help you learn. I don't care who you are, or what stage of life you're in or how you identify. What's important to me is that learners are coming with a great attitude and understanding that what we have to offer is something that as a space where, you know, we call it safe space for a reason. We want to answer questions and like you said, it's good information. It's fact-based, it's research-based. But also the part of safe spaces that I think that people may not realize is that we're teaching on equipment that's safe to learn on. And as a farm girl yourself, we all know that we have those tractors or we have that equipment that's like held together with JB Weld, and duct tape. That's not stuff I want to be teaching people on. So UNH does such a great job of providing us with equipment that is truly safe, is well maintained, and it's easy to learn on. So I'm going to boast about UNH for a second here and say, it's really neat to be able to work for an organization, work with an organization that wants to provide the best quality equipment and experience possible.

Kelly McAdam  21:04  
Yeah, absolutely. We've always held our women equipment safety program at UNH, and we've always been welcomed and had great instructors. It's just a great space to be able to teach. I think it also just shows the commitment of the university to our women farmers. And that's really important too.

Kendall Kunelius  21:32  
Yeah, absolutely. So Kelly, we're the people in Extension who are working within this Women in Ag programming area. I think it would be neat for us to talk about where we see this program going and moving forward. We have podcasts now!

Kelly McAdam  21:50  
Yes, very excited about that.

Kendall Kunelius  21:53  
We have at least one big, what feels like a big step forward, for us in creating that community. And we have these three pillars that we're working within, the first one being providing that safe space that we just talked about. But we also really talked about the importance of network and sharing knowledge and developing critical hands-on skills within those areas that directly contribute to farm viability. So in terms of women running farms, and that whole, the business aspect that we bring to the table, let's talk a little bit about what the future might look like for us providing programming within ag business management and how we can help women be really successful farm owners and managers.

Kelly McAdam  22:36  
Yeah, and I feel really lucky. For the past four or five years, I've had the opportunity to continue working on Annie's Project at the national level. I've really made a lot of connections with other educators at other land grants, and we can collaborate. In 2021, for example, we took a grain marketing program and we turned it into a program for Northeast women farmers, because we're direct marketers here, primarily, not these big grain, commodity-based systems. And I think there's a lot more opportunity there, considering like you and I are really the only ones that are doing this programming here in New Hampshire right now. I think there's a lot of opportunity there, as well as that collaboration with our Northeast neighbors, as well as just even in New England as well. So lots of potential there too, as we transition into more climate change, and the effects of that, and a lot of conservation practices and programs that are coming out in the next few years in terms of NRCS programs, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service. Women are, because they are served as a minority group under USDA, they do get special ranking for some of these programs. And I feel like it's very important that we're messaging that and getting that on their radar, even if they're not coming to our programs. They know about these potential cost share opportunities that can help them prepare as we move into more risky weather events and other risk management areas. So I think that's a really important piece that we're seeing right now even.

Rebecca Dube  24:44  
I think we're bringing that information out to people. We're trying a couple of different venues. One, of course, is this podcast that we will be continuing on different specific topics with different guests. We hope that people continue to join us for that up, we also have a Women in Agricultural newsletter that goes out, and you can certainly sign up for that. You can reach out to Kendall Kunelius, and ask to be added to that. Her email address is kendall.kunelius, K-U-N-E-L-I-U-S, @unh.edu.

Kendall Kunelius  25:21  
It will take forever to learn how to spell that too. So we'll put it in the show notes.

Rebecca Dube  25:28  
Let's put that in the show notes.

Kendall Kunelius  25:29  
No fear, we'll spell it out.

Rebecca Dube  25:33  
And you can ask her to sign up for that newsletter, which comes out monthly. There's also a variety of workshops that are going on, there's always something different happening, and you'll read about those in the newsletter as well.

Kendall Kunelius  25:48  
Yeah, thanks for putting that plug in there, Rebecca. Returning to the sentiment of creating community, our goals with any of that outreach is to make sure that women feel connected, everyone can feel connected. But specifically, I think that actually plays really nicely into our next pillar, which talks about honoring the unique challenges that women face in the ag industry. Hopefully, going forward, we'll be sharing some stories. And like Rebecca, you said, we'll have some other guests on the podcast. But Kelly, this really makes me think of your experience that you shared earlier, loading the compost. It kind of breaks my heart to say this, but that's not a unique experience. It should be but it's not. And so you know a little bit about what I have experienced within that, I have actually held an active forklift driving certification for over 10 years. And how many times have I heard "You're not really going to put that pallet in the back of my truck, are you?" Or "Where's your boss? Shouldn't he be the one driving the forklift?" Anyways, if only the listeners can see the expression on my face right now, it says it all. But I think the other piece about honoring people is really what gets to the heart of this sentiment is every woman has a unique story. We're excited to share that. In response to that, though, I think there's something to be said for creating space to sharing challenges. I think it's another thing to say we want to help find solutions for those challenges as well. So the outreach component I think is definitely an answer to saying, How do we give proven business solutions? How do we push information out to folks? And just like you're saying, Kelly, the ag world changes so quickly, and how do we make sure that we're sending out programming information or access to resources in an effective way? And I think, to kind of move on to the the next pillar,  too, is encouraging personal and professional growth through situational experiences. The other outreach piece we offer are workshops. So Kelly, tell us a little bit about your favorite workshops that you've seen, maybe some that could use some improvement, and then any other thoughts you have about in person programming for women.

Kelly McAdam  28:08  
Yeah, so I feel like I've tried a lot of different things. And like I said, we've had this women in livestock business program, which probably, between that one and our women equipment safety program, those are two of my favorites. You can just see that the women are empowered after they complete those programs. And they really appreciate what you can do for them just by offering this day to come out to sit on a tractor. You have a woman teaching you, it's a safe space; women are cheering each other on. It truly is a safe space. I've tried a few other programs. One that I feel is really important, and I wish it would take off, is our managing for today and tomorrow program, which is a farm succession program. Nationwide, it tends to be  - it is an Annie's project program, and nationwide it tends to not get a lot of attendance. But this is all about estate planning and figuring out your retirement planning. No matter where you are and your stage of life, whether you're young, and you're not even thinking about retirement, or you are farming with this child and you want to transfer that farm to that child, whether that's soon or whether that's many years down the road. It is never too early to start thinking about that. What we see happen is farmers wait until it becomes an absolute need, whether that's because of health or financial. And we really want to start planning way in advance.  And women are the ones who get the conversation going in the family. That's why we have taken this program to the Annie's Project level, is because it's women who gets the conversation started. Communication is the hardest part, you know, no one likes to talk about writing a will, and what do we do when mom or dad pass away. There's always farmers, the children that are farming, and then there's the children who are not farming, but they have this emotional connection to the farm. They want to be a part of it too, but they haven't been on the farm, and then active on the farm for years. So there's so many different challenges to manage and to negotiate. And that program teaches women or just gives them the some skills and some resources to navigate that communication. To talk about: where should you be focusing your planning on, what are the big issues when it comes to transferring the farm that you need to know about, talking about if a parent goes into a nursing home, and there's a real fear of a nursing home taking possession of the farm? Having that conversation and what does that look like? Is that a real fear that we need to worry about? Or are there some tools we can use to manage that, so that is not a risk the family has to worry about? I feel like that one is one that needs more attention. And I hope that in the future we can start to build that out a little further. But again, like I said, nationwide, that's the trend. It's not a really heavily participated program. But truly, truly important.

Kendall Kunelius  31:55  
I love how what you just said, literally finished the sentence on that pillar! Because the second piece of that, from growth through such situational experiences, is enhanced preparedness, like planning, estate planning, looking forward, confidence. I think that there is a lot of uncertainty in farming by nature alone. Like you were saying with the climate change, and we can't be certain anymore what's going to be happening in our fields. But that's just Mother Nature in general, that's farming. We don't know if we're going to have a drought year, and then all of a sudden the carrots don't grow, that kind of thing. So how do we become more confident in the structures that we can put in place in our farming businesses, and our problem solving abilities? I think once we find that confidence with ourselves, and then we couple that with the tools, like you're saying the managing for today and tomorrow; when you know you have those resources in hand, you really are fully prepared to solve those problems. So I love that you just touched on all that. Because it makes sense, it totally makes sense. Yeah, so I want to chime in on the workshops piece, because this is the part that I have the most fun with. I love love, love teaching tractor safety. I mean, well listen, any excuse for me to sit on a tractor is a good enough excuse on its own. But I think as a business person, I keep going back to the root of why do I like teaching tractor safety or truck and trailer driving or chainsaw safety? And I think it's because it opens up a world of business revenue streams or revenue channels for women that they may not have really considered for themselves. I'm a big fan of considering business ventures that make sense for you and your business, and are flexible. One of those things, I think, is animal transportation. As we're seeing a higher demand for local meat, as we're seeing people growing their own animals, they need to get them to the processor. So when we talk about workshops as well, we're not - yes, it is a little bit about women coming together and really sharing those experiences. But we are trying, I want to say, innovative methods to equip women with skills that translate into dollars into their pocket as well. And that really excites me in terms of the farm viability piece. How do we help women maintain viable farms and have that income to put aside for retirement or develop those businesses that are really attractive to keep going? A successful business by nature is going to be something that has succession, it continues, it has an exit plan. But ultimately, that's a last resource or a plan that you hope you don't have to use, is using your exit plan. So there's really a beautiful - it's like a Venn diagram with six different circles and they all converge really nicely around this idea of women in agriculture programming. I think that's really maybe the best place to to leave it and then we'll ask you for your last thoughts but saying, as folks are listening to this very first episode of this podcast, think about all those circles as being the episodes. We're coming together around this topic. And we're really excited to be sharing all of this with people who want to hear and encounter with us. So Kelly, what are your last thoughts? Give us give us some wrap up there.

Kelly McAdam  35:22  
I'm really excited, first, to have you working with me, Kendall. That's really exciting, because I know you've taught for us in that course, before you came to Extension - the farm equipment safety course. So I know we now have this expertise on staff. And I feel like our programming does have this future because it's not just me. So that's good. So as far as succession goes, that's very much a positive.

Kendall Kunelius  35:56  
I see what you did there. I was like, oh, my gosh, we just - look at us, walking the walk, talking the talk.

Kelly McAdam  36:05  
Exactly. So you know, moving forward, either having the ability for women to have access to these resources, like this podcast, is just phenomenal to have these various resources available. And to see and know that there is this continuous offering of programs as well. So when you have a team working on this together, you're able to continue to bring the programming to this audience and continue to address the need, continue to engage the need as well. I'm excited for that. In Annie's Project as I went from, "okay, yeah, I'll try this out" to "oh, yeah, this is really important." And I can see "oh, yeah, I've experienced this too." I've been in those shoes, and I know what that's like. So I'm glad to see it is where it is, and that is continuing to enter the future as well.

Rebecca Dube  37:09  
Well, thank you, Kelly, so much for joining us today. We're happy to have you. And we're going to be talking next week about Women Talk Tractors. And Kendall, do you want to give us a little preview into what that will be?

Kendall Kunelius  37:29  
Sure. I'm the woman and I'm going to be talking about tractors.

Rebecca Dube  37:34  
Her favorite topic!

Kendall Kunelius  37:37  
One of many. But yes, one of my favorite topics. We're going to be debunking the myths about why it feels taboo as a woman to be focusing on things that include equipment and machinery, and tractors. I'll get a little bit more into my personal experience with farming and farm equipment and why I think it's so important for women to have access to safe equipment to learn on and to have people who have hands-on experience to be teaching and facilitating those programs.

Rebecca Dube  38:07  
Well thank you everyone, and we'll be talking with you soon.

Kendall Kunelius  38:20  
Shared Soil is a production of University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, an equal opportunity educator and employer. Views expressed on this podcast are not necessarily those of the university, its trustees or its volunteers. Inclusion or exclusion of commercial products in this podcast does not imply endorsement. The University of New Hampshire, US Department of Agriculture and New Hampshire counties cooperate to provide Extension programming in the Granite State learn more at extension.unh.edu

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