In the majestic rolling hills of Green County, Wisconsin, there is a sisterhood of women who all found their way into farming. They all came to their land for slightly different reasons, but find farming they did. And they also found each other. Together these dynamic women are working together to make the change they want to see in this world. Never willing to accept things as they are, they strive everyday to make their world, their community, and their piece of Earth into something better.
These women graze goats and they raise steers. They grow veggies for CSA and focus on marketing them to local communities. They raise sheep and spin wool. They milk cows. They run the most quaint little bed & breakfasts you ever did see. They open vineyards and tasting rooms. They serve 7-course farm-to-table meals. They do a little bit of everything and love the hell out of the diverse farm they’ve created. They farm with their partners or they start innovative businesses all on their own.
But that, somehow, is not all they do. I know all too well, how busy and how tiring farm life can be. But these women, these fierce leaders, these creators, innovators and beauty seekers, they don’t stop. Farming is not all they do. They also get involved. They hold public office. They open businesses. They start restaurants. They diligently work to transform their rural communities into something better.
What I mean to say by all of this, is that they totally kick ass. These women just totally kick ass. The whole lot of them. There’s no way around it. I happen to not only live near these wonderful imaginative women, but I have also been lucky enough to start my farming business in southern Wisconsin where I can look to these women for advice, friendship and solidarity. I am stronger for them and not a day goes by that I don’t feel blessed that my family farm just happened to be so close to such a powerful group of role models.
Not everyone is as lucky as me. Not every woman farmer finds herself within a community of supportive and nurturing female companions. The female farmer movement in the United States is strong and nationwide there are more women farmers than ever before, but few find themselves surrounded by as many stupendous resources and role models as I do. Until now.
Lisa Kivirist, owner of Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B and a powerhouse leader in the female farming movement, published a book in February that came out of this fabulous group of women and similar dynamic ladies from all around the country. Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers is your resource and your sisterhood all packed into 256 pages. Lisa acts both as author and curator weaving personal stories (both her own as well as dozens of other female farmers) alongside facts, resources and guidance.
Soil Sisters begins with a history lesson. An overview of the long and varied history of women in agriculture, but there’s nothing dry about this story of our roots. Lisa’s conversation style and personal touches help us understand our role in this much larger world of agriculture. Sidebars full of resources and “idea seeds” round out the content making it immediately actionable.
Next she dives into the big picture of owning a farm business. Not the on-the ground growing or raising of animals, but the things you need to understand before you get there. “Farm smarts,” as she so aptly titles this section, explores trends in agriculture and key issues such as land acquisition and financing. The knowledge of Lisa and other long-time farmers guide and shape what your farming enterprise may look like and how to get there.
The third section, the bulk of the book, explores the true nuts and bolts of farming. From growing vegetables, flowers and fruits to raising livestock and processing value-added products, Lisa provides an overview of the path many women have chosen and what their business models look like. She explores diversification strategies such as as farm-to-table dinners and bed & breakfasts and even dives into the world of business planning. This section helps you to understand what owning a farming business really means on a daily basis and what business strategies your farm may adopt.
Lisa finishes her publication with perhaps the most important, most oft neglected, piece of all: a section on quality of life and balance. Farming can be a daunting and overwhelming path. It can suck you dry and leave you crumpled and defeated if you let it. This section explores all the things you don’t realize you need before jumping into a farm business: a community, solid communication, time management, and a balanced approach to your enterprise. Lisa provides her readers with guidance on not just building a farm business, but on making it work for the long haul.
This book is a true work of joy. It comes out of Lisa so naturally because she has always been the most enthusiastic and supportive Soil Sister to any female farmer she meets. This book is exactly the positive, hands-on, collaborative read all us lady farmers so desperately need. A manual for starting your own small farm or farm business, a resource guide, and a warm hug all at the same time, this book will be your biggest tool as you venture (or continue venturing) into your farming career. You will be so happy you added it to your bookshelf.
Win your own copy of Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers by sharing this post on Facebook, asking your friends to subscribe to my blog and commenting below! Contest ends next Friday, August 5th.
P.S. Want to learn more about this passionate group of female farmers in Southern Wisconsin? Want to meet them? Next weekend (August 5-7th) is the annual Soil Sisters celebration. For three days straight, 15 women farmers will be teaching, learning, cooking, dining, and showing off their farms to anyone who wants to join! More information about this fantastic event will be up on the blog on Monday along with another giveaway!