How I Became a Soil Sister
By Lauren Rudersdorf | Photos By Lauren Rudersdorf and Lauren Felix 1
It all began in early March. An e-mail from Soil Sister and event organizer Lisa Kivirist popped into my inbox. "Soil Sisters Weekend 2016: Call for workshop facilitators," it said. I opened the e-mail without trepidation. "Topics [may] fall under 'on-farm skills & interests' and [should be] general intro sessions with a fun focus," it read. I closed the e-mail. Was I interested? Absolutely. Was I skilled enough to lead a workshop on my farm for a group of strangers? No way, I convinced myself. There the e-mail sat, undeleted from my inbox and undeleted from my mind for the next several weeks.
I was familiar with Soil Sisters of course. The three-day celebration of rural Wisconsin and lady farmers was held just down the road. Monroe, Blanchardville, New Glarus and Brodhead women farmers were neighbors, mentors and friends. Soil Sisters in an indirect way had shaped much of my experience as a woman in agriculture. I appreciated, respected and looked up to the "Soil Sisters" women. I did not consider myself one. Woman farmer, sure, but Soil Sister, no way. I didn't have the experience, the expertise, or the wisdom to be given that title.
A few weeks after reading Lisa's e-mail, with workshops still on my mind, we ran into each other at the FairShare CSA Coalition Open House. She cornered me, wondering if I had read her e-mail and considered doing a workshop. It's like she could read my mind. I stammered and stuttered and tried coming up with a few lame excuses. She ignored these completely, sharing that "my new, young energy" was just exactly what the weekend needed. She suggested I do a workshop connected to my blog if I didn't feel like enough of a farm expert. "Food photography and food styling could be really interesting," she said. And just like that, through the power of persuasion and my inability to say no, I became a Soil Sister.
The preliminary planning meeting for Soil Sisters 2016 was held at the Monroe Chamber of Commerce a few short days later. With lots of coffee and freshly baked aronia berry and chocolate chip muffins, 13 women sat around a table to solidify event plans and logistics. I felt myself swell with pride. Only four years into running a vegetable farm with my husband, our business was not only thriving, it was becoming a destination. A place to visit where strangers could learn and roam, ask questions and experience.
On that late March day, I volunteered our farm (and subsequently my parents' farm and home since our farm resides on their homestead land) for essentially every part of the Soil Sisters weekend I could. The workshop that had felt so intimidating suddenly felt like no big deal. I guess you could attribute my sudden confidence to the power of female friendship. With a supportive group of women by my side, I felt like I could take on the world. I signed our farm up to be a part of the Tour of Farms event on Sunday and offered to throw a food stand fundraiser for the future funding of Soil Sisters.
It all came to fruition the first weekend of August. After 24 hours of mowing and weeding, stacking and washing, sweeping and cleaning, the farm was ready for its close-up. Soil Sisters 2016 was held on August 6th and 7th. And every part of the whirlwind weekend exceeded my wildest dreams.
On Saturday, six guests came out to the farm to bake tomato pie, toss together a tomato, cucumber and avocado salad, prepare eggplant toasts and snap photos all along the way. I shared pictures that inspire my blog along with all of my favorite tricks of the trade. I discussed why I wholeheartedly believe food styling and food blogs are important for the future of food, getting more people interested in cooking and inspired in the kitchen. Together, we diced and we chopped. We laughed and we ate. We shared more than just the basics of food styling, we shared stories and dreams.
The next day was the Tour of Farms, which brought visitors to our farm from as close as Edgerton and as far as California. The frantic energy of the moments before a big event filled my parents' home as we raced to get things ready that morning. My mom sprinted around the house, preparing for our food stand fundraiser. I sprinted in the other direction, setting up a pop-up tent produce stand that resembled our farmers market stand from years past. Kyle harvested things from the field for the produce stand. My little brother ran to the local grocery for bags upon bags of ice and then returned to the farm to lift and move and haul everything that anyone needed lifted or moved or hauled somewhere. My dad moved farm equipment to ensure enough space for parking. My aunt helped my mom make sandwiches. I instructed her on how to run the produce stand so I could be free to give tours all day. Tables topped with floral tablecloths were filled with wooden crates and baskets of heaping piles of eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and onions.
Two by two, couples began to arrive at the farm we share with my parents, following the plentiful barn wood signs that indicated a small parking lot outside our greenhouse. They grabbed a cheeseburger or a pork gyro from my mom's food stand. They bagged up produce to take home with them. And then Kyle or I took couples and families on a tour of our operation.
Hour after hour, the day sped by just like this, each tour bringing a different conversation. Organic certification, the challenges and the merits. What transitioning the family farm really looks like. My writing. Our business model. The Chicago foodshed and questions of how far out it reaches. Land acquisition. Cover crops. Long-term plans. This year's struggles with disease. What it's like farming three acres with a walk-behind rototiller. Love, family, partnership, growth. It felt like we touched on every aspect of our farming life in a mere seven hours.
Throughout this busy, absolutely joy-filled weekend, these tours where we got to connect deeply with people about farming were the absolute highlight. Spending a Sunday walking our fields over and over again with group after group, sharing the story of our farm and our vision for our future gave me great perspective on this life we're leading. In the midst of a difficult season where we feel like we just keep stumbling and losing our way, each field walk brought me greater strength and confidence in our journey.
Through conversations with strangers, the reality of my world became crystal clear: I'm building a farm, a business and a life with the man of my dreams on a corner of the land I grew up on. My husband, my parents and my brother didn't get the honor of wearing a green Soil Sisters t-shirt, but they were instrumental to the success of the weekend, just as they are to all of my dreams. The support that I have and the support we give to each other isn't any different from the support I feel wrapped up in the beautiful confines of the Soil Sisters' community. Where there is community, there is strength. Where there is love, there is joy. And where there is support, there is endless possibility.