November 7, 2001 | By: Laura Skillman

Alternative crops, stress, individual retirement accounts, insurance and hunt clubs were among the topics at this year's Four River Counties Women's Conference.

"This is strictly for women farmers - whether they are landlords, farm with their husbands or own their own," said Phyllis Simmons, Hickman County Extension agent for Family and Consumer Sciences. "

Women make up a good portion of farm owners today, Simmons said, and they need this information. Some are the sole decision-makers, others share the responsibilities with a spouse or family members.

Within the four Mississippi River counties of Ballard, Carlisle, Hickman and Fulton, 900 women are involved in agriculture, Simmons said.

Columbus-Belmont State Park, a Civil War site overlooking the Mississippi River, played host to about 80 women for the Oct. 29 event. The conference does not include crafts or food demonstrations, said Simmons. Those are handled through other meetings. This is focused on business aspects.

The event is sponsored by the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency. The idea for the conference came from Simmons and Lilly Kimbell, Hickman and Fulton counties Farm Service Agency executive director.

"I've worked for 23 years for FSA and attended lots of meetings but they were always for men, nothing for women farmers," Kimbell said. "So three years ago, Phyllis and I decided that maybe we needed a seminar specifically for women and issues that specifically involved them such as land owner rights and legal matters and things on the farm that they need to know about."

Many of the women landowners are widows and Kimbell said she's seen them come to her office without any understanding of what they needed to do. So, the seminars are a way to educate them, she said.

Simmons said her goal with the seminars is to provide women with more knowledge of not only what's required of them to operate a farm but also to provide them with a better understanding of options and alternatives.

Hazel Litesy said this was not her first time to attend the event. The Hickman County resident said she has a small farm that is rented out.

"The meetings have been wonderful," she said. "It brings fellowship and you learn to do with what you have."

Sara Clark, who farms with her husband and a son in four counties in two states, has been to all three of the women's conferences.

"The social thing is great," she said. "And I love the speakers. I've always worked and only in the last few years have had time to meet the girls. I worked so we could have insurance and extras."

Clark said she does the books, goes for parts, helps move equipment and whatever else she's asked to do on the farm.

"People underestimate the women and what they do," she said.

Conference topics are picked each year with a committee from of the four Family and Consumer Science agents and the FSA directors. They use an evaluation at the end of each year to guide the direction of the next year's seminar.


Phyllis Simmons, (270) 653-2231