Published March 28, 2015 in Lancaster Farming.

WEST FRIENDSHIP, Md. — Women in agriculture learned how to prepare a healthy economic seedbed at the annual Central Maryland Women in Agriculture conference, Thursday, March 19, in West Friendship, Md. Speakers touched on themes such as dealing with neighbors, making time for themselves, funding, marketing and diversification.

“Our neighbors are changing, and farmers are not respected like they used to be,” said Mae Johnson, mediation coordinator for the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Conflict Resolution Service. Maryland is one of 36 states that offer mediation service.

“Mediation is a process in which a neutral person is interjected into a conflict to help come up with a resolution,” she said.

Another tool in a farmer’s legal toolbox is the new Maryland agriculture law center at the University of Maryland that offers services such as assistance in researching legal issues related to agriculture, she said.

Leslie Hart, Washington County agricultural business development specialist, encouraged the women in attendance to be “agvocates” and to take time for themselves.

“Part of being an agvocate is knowing your story,” she said. She loves her job which involves doing business with farmers at kitchen tables, on tractors and in milking parlors.

Agvocates are “individuals or groups that actively promote agriculture in respectful and meaningful ways,” she said. “Tell your story or let someone else tell it for you.”

Agvocates need to know their audience and come to common terms, even if, at the end, the parties just agree to disagree. During a discussion with non-farmers, agvocates can share their background, what is most important to them, their own challenges and challenges to their industry.

“I passionately believe agriculture is a modern, dynamic industry with value that needs to be better understood, recognized and advanced among stakeholders and the general public,” Hart said.

The economic specialist also took a few minutes to encourage the ladies to look out for Number 1.

“It’s important that we take care of ourselves,” Hart said, as women are more susceptible to heart disease, breast cancer, osteoporosis, depression and autoimmune issues.

To reduce stress, don’t smoke, she said, and eat a healthy diet and get moving. Eliminate unnecessary commitments by saying no.

“If the world ended next Thursday, would anybody care if your house was clean?” Hart said.

Other ways to de-stress include slowing down, helping others, relaxing throughout the day, being more grateful, creating a zen-like environment and working in short bursts of time. Having more than seven pairs of underwear eliminates the need to do laundry as often. If a woman’s brain is running full speed at bedtime, then brain dump everything onto a to-do list for the next day.

Alice’s Agri-Maryland is a business that helps free up farmers’ time while marketing their products. Owner Alice Settle-Raskin focuses on making videos for YouTube for optimal business exposure. YouTube is a product of Google, the largest search engine online, she said.

Videos for promotion can be done easily on a Nikon CoolPix camera.

However, she warned that the camera picks up ambient sound.

“You need to be aware of your surroundings,” she said.

Avoid ambient sound by doing videos on the farm instead of at busy farmers’ market. Or, a video can be a photo array with a voiceover.

Another simple tool is Windows Movie Maker, Settle-Raskin said, which allows her to easily upload files. She pointed out that the videographer needs a Gmail account for this particular program.

While producers can do videos themselves, since farmers have limited time, sometimes hiring another person to do it helps save time.

Kathy Zimmerman, Howard County agricultural development manager, gave the women a few points to follow when diversifying their operations.

“Choose something you are passionate about,” she said, and include family members in discussions.

“I have watched families fall apart because they diversified, and everyone didn’t agree with it,” she said.

Families should do research on legal issues, zoning regulations, funding, time requirements and available markets. Develop a business plan and assemble a business management team that includes a lawyer, accountant, insurance agent and others. Decide on a business organizational structure, do market research on even simple tasks such as logo development. Decide who is in charge of the books and look into available grants and loans.

“There is a wide array of financing options out there,” said Beth Woodring, Howard County Economic Development loan fund manager.

She said that a loan program is available, funded by video lottery terminal, or slot machine, proceeds. About 1-1/2 percent of revenue from these machines goes into a statewide fund that is administered by counties.

If there is no fund manager within the county of residence, potential applicants can go to another county. She said loans provide bridge financing for working capital, equipment, real estate and more. Commercial banks do not need to be involved. Rates vary from 4 to 8 percent.

“Application is very easy,” she said. There is no fee for the first step.

Woodring said applicants need to have seeds in a row before applying for any financing. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that applying as a woman- or minority-owned business is easy. There is no such thing as 100 percent financing in most cases.

“Don’t believe everything you hear,” she said.

Consider the bank an advisor and consult them more often than when a loan is needed. Educate yourself before applying by having a budget and knowing collateral value.

View credit reports by going to annualcreditreport.com, which allows for one report from each of three reporting agencies to be ordered a year. She advises staggering reports over time to view credit activity more often.

Laurie Savage is a freelance writer in Maryland.