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Things I Learned from the Soil Sisters

Way back in the beginning of FarmHer I was working hard to tell anyone and everyone I could about my photography project that was just starting to grow some legs.  I connected with the National Farmers Union and was invited to share a bit about FarmHer at their women’s conference.

The Soil Sisters

Many of the women I met were from the Wisconsin Farmers Union. As I got to know them more, I learned about a secondary group they had formed called the Soil Sisters.  It was a group to lift up and support each other. A group to provide a camaraderie that they couldn’t find elsewhere. A group to share ideas and grow businesses. A group of women who bonded over their similarities to become friends and allies.

Fast forward a few years and I finally had the chance to visit the group of women at their annual Soil Sisters weekend, a project in partnership with the Wisconsin Farmers Union, Renewing the Countryside and Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). It is an event in southern Wisconsin where the women open up their farms to the public for workshops, tours, and fun.

A child listens at the Soil Sisters weekend event

ONE: Connecting With Others

The “In Her Boots” workshop, a project of MOSES supporting women farmers now for over ten years, was the kickoff event for the Soil Sisters weekend. The focus of the event was to bring together new and experienced farmers for a day of learning, sharing, and growth. As I observed and photographed, and even sat in on a few of the sessions, one thing became clear.  No matter how long you have been at it, there is always value in connecting with others.

During one of the sessions, a group of experienced farmers was introduced to a free agricultural resource in the state of Wisconsin.  A resource that could help them grow their businesses, be connected to grants and other funding sources and provide overall support and direction….FREE! Just watching the “aha” on the women’s faces was a reminder to stay connected because you just never know what you will learn that could help launch or propel your business forward. 

A farm woman sits at the MOSES Soil Sisters weekend event

TWO: Keep Grounded to Your Passion

While at Raleigh’s Hillside Farm I got to spend a little bit of time with Lauren Rudersdorf.  Lauren is a young woman who grew up right there at that farm. She and her husband returned to the area after college and are making a run at starting their own market farm.  Lauren hooked up with the Soil Sisters a few years back and is their self-proclaimed millennial farmer. She handles social media and other digital content for the group and has become a centerpiece to the Soil Sisters.  

Lauren Rudersdorf, a millennial farmer carries crops through a field

As I followed Lauren and watched her work I realized she had been running around all day, barefoot. I asked Lauren why she goes barefoot, and she said because it keeps her grounded and connected to the Earth. While I realize that we can’t all go barefoot all of the time, I did have a big takeaway from that.  Stay grounded and connected with what your passion is. For Lauren that is the soil. Whether it involves shoes or not, find what works for you and stick with it. 

THREE: Try New Things 

The next morning my first stop was at Dela Ends farm and bed and breakfast.  Dela, one of the founding Soil Sisters and her son Jim were conducting a bread making workshop. Now, you might be wondering how bread and farming are connected, but it is an important piece of the puzzle for many of the Soil Sisters.  

Local farmers gather eggs from a chicken coop

As most of the women own and run small farms they have a diverse lineup of areas that they use to keep the wheels on the tractor turning. From opening up their houses as farm-stays to baking goods to sell along with produce at farmers markets, these women are navy at making ends meet.  

I walked into the kitchen not knowing a soul and took the last seat, with a group of three women. I quickly learned they were sisters who were back home to visit their parents for the weekend and while there, had signed up for the workshop. I worked with them to measure, scoop, mix and knead our way through a few different types of bread.  We laughed, we ate and we walked away with a fun memory and some great recipes. It was a reminder that when you try new things, good stuff happens. 

FOUR: You Can Do Anything You Set Your Mind To

Once the bread was all eaten, we hit the road for the next stop at Circle M Market Farm to meet Kriss Marion.  Kriss was one of the original women I met in Florida and have stayed connected to throughout the years. She and her husband have a small farm with farm-stay campers, sheep and a couple of big guardian dogs, Waylon and Willie.  

FarmHer Kriss Marion feeding her sheep at Circle M Market to Farm on her Florida farm

The workshop at Kriss’s farm was to learn how to use sheep’s wool to make felted projects. Kriss had a wonderful setup out under the trees for some shade. The lively group of women was talkative and eager to get started. They, like me, had never done anything like this before.  Kriss had a basket of washed, dyed and combed wool and a few books. She quickly showed us how to make the wool stick together with a few pokes of a special needle. With her great instruction, we were off.

I set out to make a tiny penguin, pretty sure that my end product would look nothing like the picture.  To my surprise, it turned out great and was a fun afternoon spent in the company of yet another group of new friends. The lesson here, you can do what you set your mind to. Whether easy or hard, just get going and you will probably be surprised at the outcome!

FIVE: Magic Happens When You Use Your Voice

I made my way a little further down the road to the final stop of the trip, to visit Lisa Kivrist. Lisa, her husband, and her son are transplants from the Chicago area who landed in this charming part of Wisconsin a few decades ago and have built a wonderful life on the farm.  

She too was one of the women I first met down in Florida and as I quickly learned, is a FarmHer with amazing talent. She is connected people to each other and creating content that not only lifts up others but gives them the tools to help create the farm life they might be looking for.

FarmHer Lisa Kivrist stands in a garden

Lisa was instrumental in creating the Soil Sisters group and she is a driving force behind the organization and voice the group has had.  An unlikely FarmHer, who found her place on the farm and didn’t stop there. She took what she has learned and has used that to lift up and inspire others around her.

There at Lisa’s farm, she and her husband were hosting a wood-fired oven pizza night. My pesto and garlic-scape creation didn’t disappoint and it was the perfect end to a fun-filled trip visiting farms and meeting the women who run them.

One thought on “Things I Learned from the Soil Sisters

  1. Thank you Marji and the FarmHer crew for coming to visit our Soil Sisters event last August and we are SO EXCITED to see the show! Ya’ll come back and visit this Aug. 2-4, 2018. Gratitude for all you do to champion the stories of women in agriculture.

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