Women for the Land - Stories from the Field

Lesley Riker (Ohio)

For more information about American Farmland Trust's Women for the Land initiative, visit www.farmland.org/WomenForTheLand

There was a shift from snow to small bits of corn stalk pieces in northern Ohio this harvest season. There has also been a shift of agricultural landOver the next 20 years, about 371 million acres of farmland are expected to change hands as farmers retire or leave their land to the next generationLesley Riker, a wife, mother, and now farmer is an example of that shift. 

Lesley has always been involved in agriculture: 4-H committee leader, FSA board, and more. She shared this involvement with her daughters who participated in their local 4-H club and who dedicate their successful careers to the leadership skills they learned in 4-H. 

Lesley never imagined being a full-time farmer—until four years ago her husband fell incredibly ill with multiple sclerosis. “The biggest challenge was myself,” Lesley recalls, “I didn’t have enough knowledge or skills to address issues such as farm equipment maintenance or the right time of planting. These are skills you can only gain over time and by working directly in the field.” 

“The biggest challenge was myself. I didn’t have enough knowledge or skills to address issues such as farm equipment maintenance or the right time of planting. These are skills you can only gain over time and by working directly in the field.” Leslie Riker

Luckily, the farm was co-managed with lifelong friend, Dan.  “I wouldn’t have been able to farm this land without Dan—co-farmer and mentor. I would suggest every beginning farmer to find someone you can trust and learn from, Lesley recommends. 

Lesley farms over 750 acres and has a strong belief in giving back to the land. All the acreage is in no-till conservation practices and some acres are sown with cover crops.  

Lesley and her husband have three daughters who originally showed no interest in taking over the farm. Recently, one of their daughters has shown immense interest and wishes to continue and take-over their farming legacy. “Dan and I are teaching my daughter all we know about farming. The biggest issue is trying to find a balance for incorporating fairness for all three of my daughters and the lands value, Lesley said. She continues, “I heard about an opportunity for women to learn about land legacy at a Women for the Land Conservation Learning Circle and knew I had to attend. 

Over the past few decades, women have entered agriculture in unprecedented numbers. Increasingly, women own farmland, are new farmers, or have become more involved in all aspects of agriculture.  American Farmland Trust’s national Women for the Land initiative works to empower women landowners to adopt environmentally sound farming practices, protect farmland, and improve the viability of their farms.  

“There’s some truth to the stigma of women not farming and handling equipment—women can be totally ill-prepared, and some are forced into this lifestyle through unfortunate life events. Women can overcome this, and learning circles help by giving women the chance to learn equal farming practices and to ask questions.” Leslie Riker

Lesley admits, “There’s some truth to the stigma of women not farming and handling equipment—women can be totally ill-prepared, and some are forced into this lifestyle through unfortunate life events. Women can overcome this, and learning circles help by giving women the chance to learn equal farming practices and to ask questions.” 

Just like a harvest season, life has a way of shifting in many different directions—for some that means taking over a different lifestyle and career. For Lesley, it meant overcoming herself by gaining endless amounts of knowledge from a dedicated mentor, attending a women learning circle, and forming trust with her family.

To learn more about the Women for the Land initiative, contact Jennifer Filipiak, AFT’s Midwest director, at jfilipiak@farmland.org or (515) 868-1331.