Lisa Kivirist is the author of Soil Sisters: A Tool Kit for Women Farmers, which is no doubt one of the most important books published in recent years. It talks about how women are shaking the agriculture and organic farming industries, which are traditionally led by males.
But these women are not just picking up spades and sowing seeds. They are driving tractors and diversifying land stewardship, with a strong focus on sustainability and local food. The book lists down over 100 successful women farmers, inspiring soil sisters leading major farming operations, managing food businesses, educating the community, earning an honest livelihood and changing the world, one seed at a time.
Lisa Kivirist, a farmstead owner/operator and environmental activist herself, lists down three of the top traits common among these successful women farmers whom she fondly calls the “soil sisters.”
To thrive as farmers, focus is an important ingredient. Sustainable agriculture is a multi-faceted and diverse field, which provides many entrepreneurial opportunities on various scales. A key strategy is to focus on a specific vision or concept around which your farm will evolve. There are plenty of things to know about farming operations and running a self-sufficient food business, and each day offers new experiences and pitfalls.
To not be overwhelmed by the complexities of the trade, it is important to stay focused on an achievable goal. Cathy Linn-Thortenson, a soil sister who manages the Wise Acres Farm outside Charlotte, advises beginners to focus on one or two crops at a time. When choosing a crop, go for the one that has good market demand in your area and adapts well to the type of soil and climate in your locale. If you have one strong crop that produces high-quality yields, you can then branch out and experiment on other crops and products.
Kivirist highlights collaboration as a key to successfully running a farmstead. She notes that soil sisters wear collaboration on their sleeve. In fact, the phrase “soil sisters” captures the spirit of collaboration and nurturing of the shared land with other community stakeholders. There are some things in your farm that you can do on your own, but you can only go so far.
Collaborating with other women and other kindred spirited folks in your community will help you expand your entrepreneurial network. Joining farmer organizations also offer many benefits, especially when the time comes that you need to address a concern to the local government. Having farmer friends provides the socialization that you need, as well as moral support, different perspectives, and practical information and advice drawn from their individual experiences.
Embrace Your Femininity
Being a tough and successful farmer does not mean you have to disregard your feminine side. Though the farming business can be physically challenging, your creativity and determination to shake up stagnant ideas is what matters most. Gabriele Marewski, owner of Paradise Farms in Homestead, Florida writes that “…by being in touch with your feminine side, however you define that, you can express yourself and importantly be yourself in the farm business.”
In the book, Kivirist shows photographs of soil sisters wearing skirts and colorful, floral shirts while holding farm gear, driving heavy trucks and holding a shovel. In fact, the soil sisters also refer to themselves as “earth mothers,” which is quite apt because they are nourishing the soil, inspiring and empowering young girls, and providing the community with healthy and delicious food.
Today, the number of women successfully running farming businesses is significantly increasing. But more than numbers, these women are rocking fresh ideas and are championing sustainable and organic agriculture, prioritizing local food, and diversifying what lands on America’s plates.