In early 2020, the Glynwood Center for Regional Food and Farming and the Pleiades Network decided to join forces and organize an event: a gathering of women changemakers working in regenerative food and agriculture.
The original vision was to hold a three-day retreat in the Hudson Valley. Supported with a generous grant from the Martha G. Moore Foundation and individual donors, the Plant + Harvest retreat would welcome 20-25 women leaders working in food and agriculture to Glynwood in Cold Spring, NY to recharge, reconnect with themselves, and reflect upon their personal and professional needs.
The funds raised allowed the organizers to offer innovative support to participants based on years of observing barriers to women gathering professionally. Not only was travel offered to those who needed assistance, but funds for child or elder care coverage while the participant attended the retreat was also offered.
Although the in-person event was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Plant + Harvest metamorphosed into a series of three nourishing, network-building video calls held in July and August 2020. The objective of the series remained similar to the retreat: to bring together strong women and build an inspiring support system during a time in which feelings of disconnection and isolation are inevitable. But unlike an in-person, extended retreat, each call only had one hour to build meaningful connections between its participants.
It turned out that this goal was more achievable than we could have ever imagined.
Plant + Harvest brought together over 50 women in all, representing 3 countries, 16 states and every region within the United States, and spanning six decades in age. From hosting cooking shows to writing food justice podcasts, designing greenhouses to ranching, educating urban farmers to revitalizing rural communities, advocating for Indigenous food sovereignty to organizing cooking classes taught by immigrant women, Plant + Harvest participants were inspiring leaders and thinkers across the board.
We began each call by framing the goal of Plant + Harvest and by allowing each participant to introduce themselves. We then proceeded to break out into groups of 3-5 individuals, allowing for deeper conversations and more thorough introductions. Breakout groups could either respond to discussion prompts (What do you need to become a stronger, more radiant catalyst of change? What are your primary challenges? What are your biggest personal and professional needs at this moment? What are your primary sources of hope?) or could generate a more freeflow conversation. In the last fifteen minutes of every call, we reconvened and allowed each breakout group to share what they had discussed and discovered.
The difference that these sixty minutes made in participants’ outlooks and stress levels was truly astounding. Participants left the calls with smiles on their faces and lists in their heads full of ideas and contacts generated by their peers. We heard time and time again that women had shared challenges, hopes and needs, and that commonalities revealed were a source of healing and grounding. The fact that the calls’ agendas were so participant-driven was a source of gratitude, too. In setting goals of connection and rejuvenation (rather than project advancement or professional development), Plant + Harvest enabled participants to join the calls as people first--women scrambling to teach children at home, live through a global pandemic, respond to systemic racism and violence, and produce food in the wake of an ever-changing climate--and leaders second. This acknowledgement of humanness in turn allowed participants to celebrate one another’s accomplishments and elevate one another as food and farming changemakers.
We have already received requests for more Plant + Harvest gatherings, whether virtual or in person. The desire to connect with and learn from fellow women leaders in food and farming remains strong, and the partnership between Pleiades and Glynwood has the potential to impact hundreds of women across the nation and around the globe. We are incredibly grateful for the support this initiative has already received, and look forward to seeing what future support allows us to achieve.
BY THE NUMBERS:
- 300+ women nationwide invited to join the calls
- 74 women who registered for the calls
- 49 women (not including Glynwood and Pleiades members) who participated in calls (65% of registrants)
- 16 states representing all six regions of the United States (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, South, Southwest, and West/Pacific Northwest)
- 3 countries represented (US, South Africa, and Italy)
- 3 calls
- 180 minutes of connection-building, rejuvenation, and inspiration
- $0 participation fee, thanks to the generosity of donors
NEEDS AND OPPORTUNITIES IDENTIFIED:
- Need for more circular learning forums for women, especially on funding, grants, etc.
- Need for more reckoning with systemic racism in the food and farming sector
- Opportunity for increased possibility through virtual formats
- Opportunity to channel increased interest in local food because of the COVID-19 pandemic
- Opportunity in increased emphasis on healthy food and outdoor education
- Need for more women leaders in food and agriculture
- Need for more support for collaboration to address big issues
- Need for more intentional spaces to include differing perspectives and communities