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Soil Sisters: Safety nets for troubled times

My toddler feet paddled around the garden, henhouse, water pump, and wood cookstove with my mother, who could hand milk cows with the best of ’em. She was a Norwegian farmer’s daughter, in the Driftless as was my father, whose farming roots were deeper than the ocean his ancestors crossed in the 1600’s.

That farm taught me about “safety nets.” With neighbors, we co-owned a thrashing machine — a roaring, clattering, tractor powered beast — that took in sheaves of grain, belched out straw, and poured oats into gunny sacks. Men thrashed while women cooked steaming platters of meat and potatoes, followed by fruit pies for the hungry crew. When Dad got sick, neighbors planted our crops and milked our cows. In times of trouble, neighbors may be the safety net you need.

Dad coached little league. Mom organized bake sales to buy band uniforms. Through volunteering, friendships formed and the safety net for our family grew wider. 

Farming was the life I knew, but it wasn’t for me. My “get out of farming” card was college. Degrees in home economics and biology led to teaching, then Madison food businesses — first Linda’s Lakeside Market, a grocery and deli; then Sunprint and Sunporch Cafe & Art Gallery. Donating to community charities, causes, and campaigns, brought customers pouring through the restaurant doors. Giving and receiving go hand in hand.

Safety net ingredients (neighboring, volunteering, donating) were happily percolating while food ingredients, on the other hand, were trending towards more processing and lower quality. I wanted to serve bran muffins made from scratch and I wanted to know where and how the ingredients were grown. Competitors began using “scoop and bake batters” from faraway factories to lower menu prices. Hard to compete without compromising values.

And so, after 20 years holding court on the dining floor, my farmer DNA roots rose up, shook my bones, and threw me to the countryside. Back to the farm life I had escaped, because, well, it was in my bones.

Since then, I’ve worked four different farms. Each was a safety net of sanctuary and sustenance. Each was my “forever home.” But debt happens, weather happens; children, illness, divorce, aging. Though challenging, each move brought new safety nets.

One of those was (and still is) Sarasponda Spinners Guild, where I learned to make yarn by spinning wool, which led to a wool business and opportunities to volunteer and teach wool crafts. And, you guessed it, “safety nets” came with this new pursuit.

Age and circumstances nudged me to downsize 6 years ago. Fewer animals, fewer farm chores would open time for wool projects. I kept some sheep, and set my sights on a farmstead near Monticello that I named Bluffwood Landing where I would continue the work of building soils organically, as I had done on previous farms.

Moving there in the frigid, blizzardy November/December of ’14 was daunting. So, who ya gonna call? Safety netters! Soil Sisters, soil brothers, community friends near and far answered the call. Weather be damned, they showed up for days of packing, sorting, digging, donating, dumpstering, trucking & trailering everything from hay bales to fencing to canned veggies.

This move plopped me in the epicenter of Soil Sister country, a safety net, where any “ask” is answered with willing hands and minds. You don’t take your safety nets for granted, so I reciprocate with workshops, potlucks, farm tours and mentoring other farmers. Give and take. 

There’s no lack of “soil brothers” around here. Some have showed up at my farm for tractor maintenance, pasture seeding, barn repairs, dog stuck in culvert, snow blowing driveways and finding run-away sheep.

These kind folks are everywhere. Find them. Appreciate them. Be one. Participate in your local library, church, fire department, school, village event, government, “your club here.” Neighboring, volunteering, donating will grow your heart and your safety net for troubled times.

What safety net is growing right now in this area? “Heartland Threads,” a local non-profit fiber network connecting consumers with fiber and textile producers. Our organizing board will go public in 2021 with a membership drive. Information available soon at

— Soil Sisters connects and champions women in the Green County area committed to sustainable and organic agriculture, land stewardship, local food, family farms and healthy and economically vibrant rural communities. LindaDee Derrickson is the foodie & fiber geek shepherd of Bluffwood Landing Farm in Monticello. She raises endangered sheep breeds for wool, meat, land restoration, companionship and fertilizer for her bountiful gardens. Follow her online at and on Instagram at lindadeederrickson.