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Soil Sisters: Building community resilience
Sue Nelson

Women in our rural areas form the heartbeat of community resilience, strengthened every time we cross paths and connect with each other. Even during these challenging COVID times, our Green County area women have found ways to keep connected, embracing new opportunities in the virtual space as well as still gathering for the classic potluck when we can.  

I’ve personally experienced this connection through our local Soil Sisters group, a network of women who share my commitment to conservation, sustainable agriculture, local food and community building. But whatever groups you may be connected with, we as women grow stronger together when we challenge each other to take on new ventures and risks, knowing we have each other’s backs.  

This happened to me when Soil Sister, Kriss Marion encouraged me to pursue an open supervisor position on the Green County Board. What opportunities this has given me! The successful election to the Green County Board of Supervisors (now beginning my second term) and the relationships I made through the Soil Sisters seem to be a perfect blend, having a local network of women to support me. I am so grateful that I can help those in the community that may have a question on a matter that would involve county government. Do I have all the answers? For sure not, but I will find someone who will. 

Each woman I’ve been introduced to either in person, via the Soil Sister email group or a Zoom event, has her own story that confirms there are good, sincere, loving and caring people right here in South Central Wisconsin. Within the stories and these women are the constructs that allow them to share their passions. 

Women naturally cross-pollinate and collaborate to weave together different entities to make everything stronger together, creating specific efforts to become a louder voice for the object of their passion. And so via Soil Sisters I became involved in such a related group: Wisconsin Women in Conservation/WiWiC, a new NRCS initiative to support Wisconsin women landowners. Their motto is “nurturing land, and ourselves.” What could be more fitting!

As I began to learn about the land and became involved with WiWiC via Soil Sisters, I started to wonder how I could be more responsible to ensure that there will be a quality of land, water and air that my children and grandchildren can enjoy and survive on. The opportunity came when I joined a group of 20 other Green County women landowners to form the first “Soil Sisters WiWiC Cohort,” working with Tonya Gratz at the Green County Land and Water Conservation Department to design a Land Conservation Plan for our acreage.  

Developing this Land Conservation Plan together with a group of Green County women who share a passion for caring for the land and with Tonya’s expertise, my mind has opened up to possibilities for taking a more active role in stewarding my land. 

The process started with a land walk. Tonya and I walked through our woods, onto the paths behind the house and across the road to the farm fields. We discovered seed pods and flora that pictures needed to be taken to identify. We covered what is present and what could become.  

At the follow-up meeting with Tonya, after the plan was put together, all aspects of the land walk were reviewed. Information was shared that there could be grants available to help with implementing certain conservation activities. There are many directions to go with our conservation plan. Should that darn garlic mustard get our attention? How about the prairies I’d like to try to get established. What about the soil in the fields? From the report received, the quality of the soil there could use some nourishment.

What a wonderful tool provided by this Land Conservation Plan that I had the privilege to be provided with because of the Land and Water Conservation Department, WiWiC and the catalyst of all — the Soil Sisters! I read this somewhere but I cannot remember exactly where. It may be paraphrased as well: “There was a time when the land took care of us. It is now our time to take care of the land.” With my Land Conservation Plan, I am heading in the right direction. Thanks to the community of resilient women who are a part of the wonderful group of Soil Sisters. 

— Sue Nelson is a second term County Board Supervisor for District 10 (includes: Village of Browntown, Cadiz township, and southern Jordan township), a member of Soil Sisters, the Wisconsin Farmers Union South Central Chapter and Green County’s Multicultural Outreach Program. As well as a lifelong learner. She hopes to share with her husband, children and grandchildren the heartfelt responsibility we have to take care of our earth. Soil Sisters, a program of Renewing the Countryside, 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.