By Katie Nichols
Armed with a working knowledge of the forestry industry and a will to succeed, graduates of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System ForestHER program are a force to be reckoned with.
Becky Barlow, interim assistant director for Alabama Extension’s agriculture, forestry and natural resources programs, said the program was born out of a desire to equip women for success in a male-dominated field.
“Our goal in Extension is always to reach traditional audiences who need more information or continuing education,” Barlow said. “But I wanted us to reach outside of the box to an underserved demographic in our area of work — women landowners.”
With her grandmother, Nell Hill, and a past experience in mind, Barlow suggested developing a program that gave women an opportunity to ask questions and learn about land management in the classroom, then head to the woods for hands-on experience.
“Grandmother was not a shrinking violet,” Barlow said. “But 30 years ago, she was taken advantage of by a friend of a friend who brought her dinner and befriended her. Then he convinced her to let him harvest her trees to bring in some extra money.”
At that time, Barlow did a forest inventory for her grandmother. She determined the friend had not given her grandmother a good price. In the end, the swindler left the land in a mess and made himself scarce.
Barlow’s personal experience has fueled educating nearly 1,500 landowning ladies from around the world.
Barlow said 45 people attended the first workshop in 2016. That number grew to 150 attendees before the pandemic halted in-person events.
Bence Carter, an Alabama Extension forestry, wildlife and natural resources regional agent, started an online lunch-and-learn opportunity before the pandemic. This existing online presence made the ForestHER transition to virtual programming smooth.
“The lunch-and-learn webinar series began as a way to fill a need for ladies who couldn’t participate in a day-long event,” Carter said. “We had a dedicated base through in-person events, but there were still those who wanted educational opportunities on their lunch break.”
Expanding Their Reach
Barlow and Carter have documented participants from 20 states and five countries. Some participants are Alabama landowners who live out of state.
Before programming went online, Barlow said they had participants travel from Michigan, Texas and Tennessee to attend workshops.
“We are proud to offer a program that continues to provide relevant educational information in an environment where women can freely ask questions, dig deeper and get hands-on experience,” Barlow said.
To learn more about the ForestHER program, visit aces.edu.