Soil Sisters: The Power of a Potluck

There’s power in a community potluck. 

It started about five years ago as a regularly scheduled series of on-farm potlucks among local women farmers, homesteaders and home gardeners in and around Green County, Wisconsin.  Grassroots populism flowed freely among plates of artisanal goat cheese, Swiss chard pie and homemade brews.  The group grew to officially be called South Central 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.

As it turns out, women farmers are among the fastest growing segment of farmers today. 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.

This group of “soil sisters” became the de facto and informal farming and food committee of Transition Green County, a Transition muller.  Among the group’s initiatives was a “speed-skilling” event hosted at our Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B.  Since then, the group has hosted a food swap, cookie exchange in partnership with the Wisconsin Farmers Union and helped launch a new Monroe Holiday Farmers’ Market for those interested in stocking up for the Thanksgiving dinner, in partnership with the Loaves & Fishes Community Meal.  Many members of the group are also active in trying to expand the “cottage food” laws in Wisconsin to include baked goods to further encourage entrepreneurship and strengthen the local economy.

The soil sisters went on to form the leadership behind launching the South Central Chapter of the Wisconsin Farmers Union and are now hosting SOIL SISTERS (soilsisterswi.org), a community-wide event open to the public from July 31 to August 2, 2015, offering numerous, hands-on and on-farm workshops, farm tours and culinary events, led by these women farmers.  Besides getting a “backstage” pass to the inner-workings of these women owned farms, visitors can milk a goat, build a bouquet or preserve the harvest, depending on what workshops attendees sign up for.  While the August 2 Tour of Farms is free, the workshops and culinary events on July 31 and August 1 are ticketed.

The event 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 2015 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 people behind what we find deliciously prepared on our dinner table:  food that is local, sustainably grown, savored in season.  Rob Hopkins suggests painting a picture of a future of which we all might want to be a part.  Come July 31, the soil sisters and Transition Green County invite you to participate in the soil sisters’ version of this vision.

Join in one event or spend the entire weekend learning new skills or expanding your knowledge of farming and food production, renewable energy and green building design, or launching a cottage food business from your kitchen or opening up a farmstay.  You can even learn how to raise emus, chickens, goats, ducks, sheep and numerous other livestock.

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.

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 the Great Re-skilling in a way that’s just plain fun.

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Lisa Kivirist and John D. Ivanko are on the steering committee of Transition Green County, operate the Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B that’s completely powered by the wind and sun, and the co-authors of numerous books on sustainability, including Homemade for Sale, Farmstead Chef, ECOpreneuring and Rural Renaissance.

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