By Lisa Kivirist, author, co-owner and operator of Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B
Never underestimate what a bunch of women coming together for a potluck can do.
What started now ten years ago as a regularly scheduled series of on-farm potlucks among local women farmers, gardeners and food enthusiasts in and around Green County, Wisconsin, has mushroomed into Soil Sisters: A Celebration of Family Farms and Rural Life, held the first weekend of August. This year’s even will be held August 3 through 5.
A project of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, this now award-winning and largest women-farmer event of its kind in the country started over those shared covered casserole dishes in our Midwest agricultural heartland as we women farmers got to know each other and started cross-pollinating regularly. As friendships bloomed, we began to cultivate bigger dreams together: What if we could bring more people on our farms, share our passion for raising food with kids and celebrate this vibrant, growing movement of women farmers? And if we could encourage younger women to consider careers in agricultural along the way, all the better.
We then started Soil Sisters in 2011 at first as a one-day farm tour, where we opened our barn doors for a Sunday to the public and invited folks to plot their routes and visit a variety of farms across our area of South Central Wisconsin, about an hour south of Madison. The feedback we received from visitors, especially other women, is “this is great and we want more,” so Soil Sisters expanded to a full weekend that now includes various on-farm workshops and culinary events along with the farm tour day.
This year’s event involves over 20 women farmers, all Wisconsin Farmers Union members, and offers a range of opportunities for the public to connect with us Soil Sisters and the daily farm lives we lead. The weekend kicks off with a day-long ‘In Her Boots: Success Strategies from the Soil Sisters” workshop in partnership with the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), particularly focused on women interested in starting farm operations. This year’s In Her Boots session will be at Raleigh’s Hillside Farm and hosted by Lauren Rudersdorf, an inspiring young farmer reinventing her family farm land by growing organic vegetables in partnership with her husband, Kyle.
Lauren also wonderfully represents the multi-generational, cross-pollination amongst our Soil Sisters group, as we range in age from our twenties to our seventies. Lauren took on the leadership to train our event planning team on social media and particularly Instagram, which that seventy-something Soil Sisters in particular, LindaDee Derrickson of Bluffwood Landing, has creatively embraced.
Other elements of Soil Sisters include on-farm workshops covering a range of topics from a “Garden Walk, Pick Some Flowers & Create” with Dela Ends of Scotch Hill Farm to “Fizzy Fermented Beverages DIY” with April Prusia of Dorothy’s Range. And of course, folks get hungry so we offer a variety of culinary events, including a “Taste of Place” kick-off event with Lori Stern at her local food café, Cow and Quince, to a family-friendly Pizza on the Farm, at my farm, Inn Serendipity. The Tour of Farms wraps up the weekend on Sunday, August 4, where again we open our barn doors for folks to come visit.
We’ve learned our Soil Sisters event goes beyond basic agritourism: it provides us a platform from which to share our story and help connect the public with farmers and local food. Soil Sisters has cultivated media interest, including recent articles in Modern Farmer and Midwest Living. We nudged our state to officially proclaim that first week in August as “Wisconsin Women in Sustainable and Organic Agriculture” week. And most importantly, women in my farm-hood are stepping up to the leadership plate and amplifying our voices together: Three women from our Soil Sisters network have successfully run for County Board and Kriss Marion of Circle M Farm is currently running for State Senate.
The collaborative drive behind Soil Sisters exemplifies what Farmers Union is all about: supporting each other to together be something even stronger. This cooperative spirit runs strong amongst us women farmers and is something that by sharing our stories we can champion each other to step forward and grow.
In that spirit, I’ll be “introducing” you to two amazing Soil Sisters over the next two weeks leading up to this year’s Soil Sisters event: Ashley Wegmueller of Bo & Olly’s Produce and April Prusia of Dorothy’s Range. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and sit around the virtual farmstead kitchen table with these inspiring ladies as they share their reflections and advice on how we as women farmers can grow together. Rumor has it they will be sharing some of their favorite summer recipes too because, as we all well know, change percolates when we share the abundance and eat together!
Lisa is a Senior Fellow, Endowed Chair in Agricultural Systems for the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Minnesota and is the author of the award-winning book, Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers, and co-author of Homemade for Sale, Farmstead Chef, ECOpreneuring and Rural Renaissance with her husband, John Ivanko. She founded and leads the In Her Boots project, a woman-farmer training initiative of the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). Lisa and her family run Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B in Wisconsin, completely powered by renewable energy.
Like what you’ve read? Join the conversation in the NFU Women in Agriculture Facebook group.