WFAN Members Create Photovoice Project to Tell the Story of Their Watersheds

"River Stories" participants L to R: Betty Wells, Courtney Turnis, Danielle Wirth, Angie Carter, Patti Edwardson, Colleen Radebaugh, Jan Kaiser, and Chris Henning. A group of WFAN members recently created a beautiful and informative exhibit called "River Stories: Views from an Iowa Watershed." Six women landowners in the Raccoon River and Des Moines River watersheds in western Iowa worked together to build the exhibit, which consists of photos the women took of their farms, along with captions generated through group dialogue, to create "photostories." The project debuted in June 2016 at the town center in Perry, IA.

Project leaders were Angie Carter, Jean Eells, and Betty Wells, all of whom have worked with women farmland owners to collect information and provide conservation education using WFAN's Women Caring for the Land peer-to-peer "learning circles" method. As Angie writes on the event invitation, "Together, we wondered, what stories might women landowners share about their experiences in their watersheds? How might we engage conversations about our watersheds, and our land, in new and different ways?"

In the fall of 2015, Carter, Eells, and Wells led two Women Caring for the Land learning circles (funded by the TogetherGreen program of the Audubon Society and Toyota), in Coon Rapids and Jefferson, IA. At the meetings, Angie shared information about the upcoming "photovoice" project, and invited participants. In spring 2016, the group met twice in person and twice by phone to plan, share, and organize photos for the program in Perry.

Angie explains, "Photovoice is a community-based process that uses photography and group dialogue to understand topics of importance or concern within a community." She adds that Photovoice is different from documentary photography in that it prioritizes the participants' own experiences. Community members, rather than an outside photographer, take pictures of their own community. The resulting photos and captions serve as a source of knowledge and discussion for participants and the community at large.

“One of the side benefits of the project, beyond spreading the word about issues affecting the watershed, is the opportunity to meet some like-minded women who are willing to roll up their sleeves and make a difference. Working with these women has inspired me to spend time learning more about the importance of crop rotation, cover crops, and protecting our water sources, “ shared participant Jan Kaiser, a fifth generation Iowa farmer near Woodward.

Other participants included WFAN board member Patti Edwardson of Churdan, Chris Henning of Cooper, Colleen Radebaugh of Rippey, Courtney Turnis of Coon Rapids, and WFAN founding member Danielle Wirth of Woodward. Along with WFAN, other sponsors of the debut presentation were Raccoon River Watershed Association and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, which provided funding for the project.

Angie adds that an open public Facebook group has been created for people to post their own photostories. See it at this link.