Here in our Wisconsin rural heartland, we don’t need to explain what rhubarb is. If you don’t have a patch, your neighbor probably does and is happy to share. This time of year, rhubarb pops up in baked goods and sauces and the tangy taste always reminds us spring is here.
Rhubarb alone; however, never works. It’s too tart by itself and needs a hefty dose of other ingredients to transform it into something better, including sugar to sweeten. The same concept applies to building and strengthening our community: We need each other, multiple perspectives, to together grow stronger.
Women in particular have known this here in our rural countryside for generations, that the power of connections and collaboration amplify the good times and strengthen us to navigate through the rough spots, like the current pandemic. Research supports that women learn best from each other and together we share a passionate commitment to building healthy communities, local food systems, sustainability, conservation and stewarding our landscape.
Add in the fact that women make up one of the fastest growing groups of new farmers as evident by the increasing female-led operations here in Green County and the opportunity for women to step up to leadership roles is clear and vital for us to all strengthen our resiliency.
Meet Soil Sisters, a local group of women doing exactly that. We started meeting regularly for potlucks and farm tours nearly 10 years ago, sharing everything from zucchini harvest abundance to feeder pigs to tips on launching farm stay B&Bs and other local business ventures. Our local group has grown to over 220 women, with a vibrant list serve of daily informational exchange, still meeting regularly for potlucks although curtailed currently due to COVID-19. We welcome new women, especially those just starting out with dreams of living closer to the land.
Building connections between eaters and farmers and celebrating this increasing role women play inspires the annual and now award-winning Soil Sisters we organize every first weekend in August, filled with on-farm workshops, culinary events and farm tours. This event showcases the heart of what Green County is all about: opening up our barn doors and sharing our farming story with others, offering new visions and opportunities for prioritizing an agricultural system that stewards our land, water and air for future generations and has grown to be one of the largest women-farmer led events in the country.
Due to COVID-19, we have postponed the Soil Sisters weekend to August 6-8, 2021, and look forward to seeing you then. Soil Sisters is now a project of the non-profit organization Renewing the Countryside, providing opportunity to grow and help support women in other areas of the state and country to start their own local networks and amplify the voice of rural women.
As Soil Sisters has grown and evolved over the last decade, we’ve learned the key ingredients for a healthy community model lessons from our land and Mother Nature, including:
Mother Nature always plants more than one seed, realizing not all will germinate. The same model applies to growing strong farms: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Soil Sisters farms draw inspiration from the homesteads of our region a generation ago, where the norm was multiple ventures from selling eggs to home-baked goods to meat and vegetables.
Recraft Business as Usual
As my husband, John Ivanko, and I write about in our books Rural Renaissance and ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef, communities with a shared commitment to building our local economics and food system while stewarding our land are the key ingredient to collaboratively thriving through both thriving and trying times.
It’s the triple bottom line approach that embraces that there is more to business than just profit and the financial end, we need to keep the social and environmental aspects an equal priority too. Soil Sisters connect these dots in innovative new ways from raising new crops such as hemp to Dorothy’s Range supporting rare heritage hog breeds.
Share the Knowledge Abundance
Sure, share those extra zucchinis. But think beyond that to sharing your experience, insight and knowledge. We’ve seen multiple Soil Sisters-led businesses defy the expected competitive model and instead successfully pop up through cooperation and support, from Landmark Creamery to a farm stay at Wegmueller Dairy Farm. In John and my book, Homemade for Sale, we share our experiences and research in how to start selling homemade items from your home kitchen, embracing the fact that more of these businesses doesn’t take away from what we do, it only adds and strengthens.
As in nature, if we treat everyone with respect there is more than enough to go around. Soil Sisters defy the outdated notion that businesses have to compete to be successful and prove that we are stronger together. Rhubarb alone? Not even palatable. Add some sugar, strawberries and streusel and you have a blue-ribbon worthy pie with slices to share.
Look to this new monthly Monroe Times column to meet a diversity of Soil Sisters and hear her stories from the farm along with ideas, inspiration and often recipes to celebrate the season and local Green County bounty.
— Lisa Kivirist is the author of Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers and co-author with her husband, John Ivanko. Lisa and her family run Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B in Browntown. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.