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Soil Sisters: Come Unity: A call to build community
Grace McLaughlin

We don’t hear with our toes or see with our fingers. We don’t smell with our backs or taste with our knees. We don’t listen with our elbows. Our sense of touch varies throughout our bodies — what is too hot or too cold for one part is just right for another, and that strange sense that tells us where our bodies are in space cannot be located in any one part. But somehow our brains integrate all that information and allow us to move through the world safely, learning, doing, adapting to new and changing circumstances, as one unified body.

A community is similar. We each experience the world a little differently and have talents and skills that differ. Some ask the big questions, other see small details. We are leaders and followers, teachers and healers, protectors and explorers, farmers and mechanics, conservationists and miners, chefs and bankers, software and electrical engineers, artists, and builders. Somehow, out of our diversity, we come together as one, as a community, and each individual is important.  

Just as we learn to integrate information from different parts of our bodies, we learn to listen to different community members. We think about varying points of view and how we feel about them, and we decide how relevant they are to our lives. We learn to work with those whose views and attitudes are not exactly like our own. These experiences help us expand our world view and gain appreciation for different cultures and ideas, but they can also be uncomfortable and unsettling. That is good. With each new person or idea we encounter, we learn and grow, and we expand our own ability to cope with problems and adapt to changing circumstances. 

We can build bridges, come together, and create communities wherever we find ourselves. Farm families that are in their 4th or 5th or 6th generation on the same farm can be open and welcoming to those who are just learning to be farmers or have come from different places. We can learn from those who have been practicing rotational grazing and organic vegetable production in Wisconsin for 50 years. We can learn from the newcomer from Thailand or India, Mexico or Pakistan, Nigeria or Afghanistan, who may or may not come from a farming tradition.  We can also learn from the city dweller who moves to the country and decides to grow flowers or mushrooms or medicinal herbs. Those of us from elsewhere can adapt crops we are familiar with and love to a new environment, just as we ourselves learn to cope with insects, diseases and weather found here. Those with skills gained in the big city business world can teach their neighbors about internet marketing, including live streaming online festivals and sales. The last two years, we have all been learning about Zoom and Google Meet! 

We can also build bridges across the so-called urban-rural divide. No matter where we live all of us want decent and affordable health care, good schools, affordable housing, safe streets, and good jobs. Most of us are concerned about drug addiction, poverty, racism, and crime. But are city dwellers, with access to buses and taxis, aware that more than 40% of rural dwellers wish they had access to any public transportation at all? Or that more rural dwellers want better internet connectivity and are worried about jobs than either urban or suburban residents? By coming together, we can develop strategies to cope with these issues. 

When community members bridge their differences, communities become stronger, more resilient, more capable of responding positively to change, adversity, or disaster. In order to build bridges, we need communicators and their outlets, such as radio, newspapers, television, churches, small or large groups, and on-line social media. Although it is easy to pay attention to those who share similar viewpoints, we grow when we are open to listening to and learning about others. Just as children become competent in walking and talking, and gain confidence to cope with life’s tumbles and new experiences, when individuals make contributions to their communities and build connections among members, our communities (small and large) gain in character, strength, and resiliency. When people take a risk by attending a meeting with a new or different group of people, they can be ignored and marginalized — which can lead to isolation, resentment, and anger. Or they can be welcomed and appreciated, and thereby be able to help the group grow and meet its purposes and goals. 

When individuals and groups reach out to each other, we find concerns in common, and we can find common ground to build relationships, to build bridges, to build community, to come together in unity. 

— Grace McLaughlin has worn many hats in her journey from Washington to California to Florida to Wisconsin. She has been a horse trainer, a wildlife ecologist, a farmer, and a candlemaker; most of her jobs have somehow involved teaching. She raises garlic on a micro-farm on a limestone ridge outside New Glarus, and is Co-chair of the Community Kitchen Cooperative in Monticello. Support local farmers through 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. For more information on the return of the Soil Sisters weekend Aug. 5-7 see