Author: Lisa Kivirist and John D. Ivanko • Date: July 20, 2016 • Appears in:
“Soil Sisters” Cook, Collaborate and Celebrate
Never underestimate what a bunch of women coming together at a potluck can do.
What started six years ago as a regularly scheduled series of on-farm potlucks among local women farmers and home gardeners in and around Green County, Wisconsin, has mushroomed into SOIL SISTERS: A Celebration of Family Farms and Rural Life, held the first weekend of August. This year’s event -- which includes a Dinner on the Farm, Taste of Place at Cow & Quince, a local “community supported restaurant” that focuses on farm-to-table, seasonal cuisine, plus on-farm workshops and Tour of Farms – runs August 5 to 7, 2016.
Grassroots populism flowed freely among plates of artisanal goat cheese, Swiss chard pie and homemade brews at these potlucks, as did the soil sisters’ commitment to healthy soil, clean air and a more locally-based, interconnected community. The group grew to officially be called South Central Wisconsin Women in Sustainable Agriculture, inspiring four other Wisconsin women farmer networks under the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service’s Rural Women’s Project, an award-winning program to support women transforming our food system.
Perhaps it's no surprise to Soil Mate farmers, participants and supporters that women farmers are among the fastest growing segment of farmers today. According to research from the USDA, the number of women-owned farms tripled over the past three decades, from 5 percent in 1978 to 14 percent in 2012, bucking the national trend of declining family farms. Both capturing and supporting this movement, Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers by Lisa Kivirist was released earlier this year.
The SOIL SISTERS event offers a “backstage” pass to the inner-workings of these women-owned farms. Visitors can milk a goat, preserve the harvest, try their hand at fiber arts or be a farmer for the afternoon, or join in numerous other experiences to be had. While the August 7 Tour of Farms is free, the workshops and culinary events on August 5 and 6 are ticketed.
SOIL SISTERS also celebrates the importance of soil, the living foundation upon which all terrestrial life thrives. It’s highlighted by the fact that the 68th United Nations General Assembly declared last year as the International Year of Soils.
“There are more soil microorganisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on the earth,” according to the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service. “Millions of species and billions of organisms—bacteria, algae, microscopic insects, earthworms, beetles, ants, mites, fungi and more—represent the greatest concentration of biomass anywhere on the planet!”
SOIL SISTERS as an event is an idea, inspired by a potluck and the soil sisters behind what we find deliciously prepared on our dinner table: food that is local, sustainably grown, savored in season.
Participants can visit with the soil sisters, tour their farms, take a preserving the harvest or fermenting workshop, or hop on a hayride and savor a picnic with Dinner on the Farm. On the farm, ripe produce, frozen meats, fresh-cut flowers, handmade crafts and numerous books will be available, boosting the local economy and supporting these family farmers who prioritize soil health. You can even learn how to raise chickens, goats, ducks, sheep and numerous other livestock.
Maybe you’ll return home with the thought of hosting a potluck in your part of the country. Who knows, it just might lead to an event that celebrates the farmers and food artisans in your community, brings people together around the table, builds a stronger local economy and fosters a better understanding of the work that goes into growing or raising food in a way that’s just plain fun.