The agricultural and farming sector has typically been a male-dominated one for many years. Many public and private organizations recognize the disparity between the genders and seek to close the gap by offering support to women interested in the field of agriculture and farming. Women pursuing agricultural education and training as well as those operating family farms have financial aid opportunities available to them in the forms of scholarships and grants.
Since maintaining the nation’s food supply is a high priority, public and private institutions have set aside money for scholars who would like to learn the trade. Scholarship award is based upon a variety of criteria including an applicant’s regional or state residence, financial status, and achievements.
Many private scholarship funding amounts seem small in light of rising tuition prices and economic inflation in general. However, these small scholarships are often established by community-based, non-profit organizations that simply recognize the needs of others and attempt to take appropriate action. From the perspective of what the scholarships represent, each one is valuable.
Women who own, co-own, or operate a farm are eligible for a variety of grants to support them in their endeavors. Financial aid is given to those involved in traditional, sustainable, and organic farming. Male farmers exceed female farmers by over fifty percent, but the gap has been lessening over the years.
Even though there are still relatively few grants specifically set aside for female farmers, the number of farming grants is starting to keep pace with the growing number of women entering the agricultural sector.
Midwestern state colleges and universities often offer grants and scholarships for students enrolling in agricultural degree programs. Many times, students are considered for these scholarships by simply filing financial aid paperwork. Scholarships are mostly awarded to students who have a verified financial need as well as demonstrated academic potential. The scholarship award amounts vary by the specific type of scholarship and state institution.
Iowa State University (ISU) sponsors various scholarships for students pursuing degrees in agriculture through its College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The Maxine Sampson Scholarship for Women in Agriculture provides financial assistance to incoming freshmen women who are enrolled in an agricultural degree program.
Specific criteria for women receiving this award include a high school minimum grade point average (G.P.A.) of 2.5, full-time enrollment in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, completion of the Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA), demonstrated financial need, and U.S. citizenship.
Applicants are considered based upon their FAFSA submittal by January 15th yearly. More information about this scholarship may be found at the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences website.
Private organizations that have been founded to promote the nation’s agricultural interests through education and training often provide scholarships to its members, those interested in becoming members, and those that simply have an interest in furthering their agricultural career goals.
American Agri-Women (AAW) and Kentucky Women in Agriculture (KWIA) are just two organizations that focus on the unique challenges of women pursuing education and career opportunities in the field of farming. Other organizations indirectly support women in agriculture by providing various types of mentoring and financial support.
Future Farmers of America (FFA) and Mahindra Tractor
Future Farmers of America (FFA) partner with industry to bring financial aid to young people pursuing careers in agriculture. Mahindra Tractor is one industry partner that provides a scholarship specifically for women pursuing a college education in the agriculture field.
Mahindra has been in business since WWII, and in addition to winning many total quality awards for their business processes it is also a community-minded organization. Every year it provides four scholarships worth $2,500 each to women selected by an FFA scholarship committee. Awards are based upon academic achievements, college entrance exam scores (e.g. SAT/ACT), leadership achievements, community service activities, and participation in FFA supervised agricultural experiences.
Here is a link to the scholarship application scoring criteria for FFA members: www.ffa.org.
There are few specific qualifying criteria for the Mahindra Women in Agriculture scholarship. To be considered for the award, women must be pursuing a two- or four-year college degree in agriculture. They must have obtained a minimum high school or current G.P.A. of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, participated in community service, and demonstrated leadership skills. Financial status is also a consideration, and applicants are required to show financial need for the scholarship.
The scholarships are available to women residents from all states with the exception of Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Rhode Island, and Wyoming. Mahindra Tractor operates in the rest of the 38 states, and the awardee is expected to attend award celebrations and publicity activities with Mahindra corporate officers for those locations in which they operate.
The scholarships require active FFA membership, there is an age limit of < 23 prior to the deadline & the deadline for applications is February 1st, and women must submit their applications through FFA and not directly to Mahindra Tractor. Women who submit applications for Mahindra’s Women in Agriculture through FFA are also considered for over 1,000 other scholarships with FFA industry sponsors. Applicants need only to apply once with FFA to be considered for all of the scholarships which is a big time saver for applicants searching for financial aid. The deadline to apply for FFA scholarships is February 1st. Both scholarships require applicants to be active FFA members. There is an age limit (<23 years of age prior to deadline).
Future Farmers of America (FFA) and Cheryl Dant Hennesy
The Cheryl Dant Hennesy Scholarship was founded by former chairman and CEO of Tractor Supply Company Thomas Hennessy in honor of his wife. Three scholarships worth about $5,000 each are awarded to women pursuing a two- or four-year degree. The scholarship funding is designed to be awarded in a yearly amount of $1,250 and may be renewed each year based on the awardee’s maintenance of a minimum 2.0 G.P.A. on a 4.0 scale.
This scholarship is available to women applicants residing in the states of Georgia, Tennessee, or Kentucky who have a demonstrated financial need. Although the Cheryl Dant Hennesy Scholarship criteria do not require the applicant to pursue a degree in agriculture in order to be considered for award, the scholarship is administered through FFA. Those that are not FFA members or involved in the agricultural field may not even realize that this scholarship exists.
American Agri-Women — Daughters of American Agriculture
AAW was founded in 1974 as an organization that combined several states’ women in agriculture special interest groups. Women involved in the agriculture field in states such as Michigan, Washington, Illinois, and Oregon had begun forming groups to promote and preserve the occupation of farming in America.
Today, this group focuses on regulatory and legislative actions that have significant impacts on agriculture as well as investing in the future of the agri-business by supporting students seeking training and financial aid.
It is through the AAW organization that the Daughters of American Agriculture (DAA) promotes its two annual scholarship awards to women pursuing a college degree in agriculture. The DAA was founded in the Midwest to honor pioneer women and their contributions to America’s family farms. The DAA offers two different scholarships for women in the amount of $1,000 each.
- The Jean Ibendahl Scholarship is for qualified female high school graduates ages 18-23 years old who wish to obtain a degree in farming. This scholarship is named after an AAW member who along with her husband contributed the original funding for the DAA’s scholarship fund.
- The Sister Thomas More Bertels Scholarship is for women 24 years old and older who are returning to school to pursue agriculture educational opportunities. Sister Thomas More Bertels was a highly regarded, founding member of AAW.
The criteria for both scholarships include academic achievements, financial need, agricultural work experience, and planned enrollment in college coursework pertaining to agriculture. Although no stated minimum G.P.A. was given, grades and college placement tests such as the SAT & ACT are evaluated by the scholarship committee.
Additionally, women must be a farmer or rancher or the wife, daughter, or close relative of a farmer or rancher to qualify for a scholarship award; the idea is for the woman to possess working knowledge of agriculture or farming.
Women applying for either scholarship must apply by June 1st each year. Applications and instructions for DAA scholarships may be found on the AAW website or by contacting DAA directly by mail (11841 N. Mt Vernon Rd, Shannon, Illinois 61078).
Kentucky Women In Agriculture Scholarship
KWIA is an organization that promotes women in agriculture through education and action. The results of the “action” that this group takes can be seen in the yearly scholarship they provide to women pursuing degrees in agriculture.
KWIA got its start in 1999 as the Kentucky Agriculture Women’s Leadership Network. Since its incorporation in 2003, it has crafted a mission to promote educational opportunities pertaining to agriculture among its members and foster an environment for agricultural women leadership training. KWIA also seeks to promote awareness among its members of regulatory and legislative activities pertaining to agriculture.
The KWIA Scholarship is awarded yearly to a woman who is a college or university rising junior or higher attending a Kentucky school. The total award amount is $1,000. Candidates are selected by the KWIA scholarship committee based on desire to work in the field of agriculture, demonstrated financial need, academic achievement, and community service and leadership activities.
The specific requirements for female candidates receiving the KWIA Scholarship are Kentucky residence, maintenance of a minimum 2.5 G.P.A. on a 4.0 scale, submission of current transcripts and verification of continued college enrollment, a 500-word statement of proposed agricultural career goals, and two letters of recommendation.
Applicants must submit their applications to KWIA by May 25 each year to be considered. More information about this scholarship may be found on the KWIA website.
Jeannette Rankin Scholarship Fund
The Jeannette Rankin Scholarship Fund (JRSF) was founded to honor the first elected Congresswoman. Upon her death, Jeannette Rankin left her estate for the care of mature, unemployed women. Money from her estate was used to seed initial scholarship funds, and the organization relies on prudent investments and donations to continue providing scholarships for mature, low-income women.
Although Jeannette Rankin Scholarships are not specifically geared toward farming and agriculture, agri-women may get awarded scholarships based on the scholarship award criteria. The criteria for award of the JRSF are that applicants must be a minimum of 35 years old, enrolled in an accredited school, low-income, and a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The candidate also must be pursuing technical or vocational training, a first time bachelor’s degree, or an associate degree.
Applications are judged by the scholarship committee based on the applicant’s career goals, plans to achieve those goals, and the woman’s financial status. Women who would like to return to school to pursue agricultural or farming education should contact JRSF for application details.
Non-Degree Education and Training Opportunities
Many women are already working in the agricultural and farming field and simply wish to obtain continuing education in their chosen profession. New farming techniques and regulatory industry information are sometimes shared at various agricultural conferences. Agricultural conferences sponsored by Women in Agriculture groups promote the education and training of women interested in farming and allow them to develop appropriate support networks.
American Agri-Women Scholarships
AAW sponsors two such conferences and provides scholarships for attendees. The Gail McPherson Scholarship fund allows scholarship winners to attend the annual AAW Washington D.C. Fly-In event. The event includes meetings with agricultural department and government legislative representatives to get information and ask questions pertinent to the agricultural and farming field. The fly-in event is a networking event as well as an opportunity to personally let one’s voice be heard on agricultural and farming issues.
AAW also offers the Helen Whitmore Memorial Scholarship to support women who already have an interest in agriculture and to help those women encourage the interest of agriculture among their peers. The AAW annual convention is held every November, and the scholarship recipient is awarded $400 to cover registration and some travel fees. During the AAW Annual Convention, information concerning innovative farming techniques is disseminated; the event also provides a unique networking opportunity for women interested in farming.
Women seeking information about the Gail McPherson Scholarship for the annual Fly-In event and the Helen Whitmore Memorial Scholarship for the AAW Annual Convention should visit the AAW website.
Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture
The Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture (BRWIA) organization is another group that provides scholarships to women desiring to learn more about agriculture and farming without pursuing a full blown degree. The BRWIA sponsors scholarship winners to attend farming conferences focusing on sustainable agriculture.
Sustainable agricultural techniques are promoted and taught at these conferences to assist farmers interested in transitioning their traditional farms in to ones that are more efficient and earth-friendly. More information about BRWIA’s sustainable farming scholarships may be found by visiting the BRWIA website.
Financial support is not only available to some women who pursue agricultural educational opportunities but also to those who own or operate farms. There are grants available for those practicing traditional as well as sustainable agricultural methods. There is also assistance for those farms that would like to have their produce certified as organic by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Here is a list of traditional, sustainable, and organic agricultural grants for women farmers.
Vermont Farm Women’s Fund
The Vermont Farm Women’s Fund (VFWF) was started to support women’s farm business and provides grants to Vermont women farmers for a variety of agricultural activities to include the incorporation of sustainable farming practices and transitioning traditional farms to organic ones.
Grant awards are used by the women to attend conferences, classes, and other continuing education opportunities as well as to conduct research and development for innovative farming projects. Some awards are set aside for specific needs of women farmers such as those whose farms have been negatively impacted by heavy flooding recently; this particular grant is called the New Flood Recovery Initiative.
More information concerning grant types and funding amounts available to Vermont women farmers through VFWF may be obtained by visiting the VFWF website.
Redbird Farmer’s Project
Redbird Farmer’s Project (RFP) was started by a group of women farmers in Kentucky. While the group does not provide free funds, it provides free farming workshops for the continued education and training of women farmers. It also hosts an equipment share program that allows women farmers to “borrow” farm equipment that they would not ordinarily be able to afford to purchase. RFP is home to an extensive free lending library of books and digital media relating to agricultural training. Any woman may join the group. One may visit the RFP website for more information about RFP resources (www.rbfarmer.com).
USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Although the federal government does not provide funds for farm business start-ups, it does sponsor several grants for women who would like to work on projects that align with the organization mission. Some USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) objectives include the promotion of a safe, nutritious food supply for Americans as well as supporting sustainable agricultural methods in farming. Women farmers with a science, technology, engineering, or mathematical career background may qualify for grants to work on projects that support the mission of the USDA. For more information concerning Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Fields grant programs, one may visit the USDA NIFA website (USDA.Gov).
Although obtaining agri-women scholarships may be competitive, the opportunities exist for those willing to conduct a thorough search. The best way to find scholarships for women pursuing education and training in agriculture is to get involved with private agricultural organizations. These groups directly sponsor some scholarships for women and many times have knowledge of funding sources that are not well advertised to the general public.
Involvement in private agricultural organizations also works for women seeking grants and financial assistance for existing farm businesses. Local, state, and federal funds are also available to farms for a variety of uses not including farm start-up. Many grants are awarded to non-profit organizations that seek to combine traditional farming practices with environmentally friendly, sustainable farming techniques. Women farmers who join together as a co-operative, non-profit organization have a greater chance of winning government farming grants.