MONTICELLO -- Linda Dee remembers toddling along with her mother planting bean seeds in the family garden as a child. With those seeds was planted a love for the land that has continued through the years, evident in the sprawling gardens on her Monticello farm.
As she lifts the gate latch to let me pass by, Dee reminisces, "That was back in the days when you didn't run to town to get things fixed —Dad could fix anything."
Dee took that self-sufficiency to heart and continues to grow much of her own food and spins her own fiber on the farm, with infectious energy and spirit.
"I think I'm a very young 70," Dee says with a sassy grin, revealing that her birthday is coming up. "It's the new 50."
Her cure for staying young is home-grown cooking and tending sheep, she confides, as she spryly switches her flock from one paddock into the next. The flock, a mix of rare heritage sheep, follow loyally at her heels.
Create your own adventure
Dee is one of 20 women farmers who will welcome visitors and host workshops during the 6th annual Soil Sisters tour Aug. 4-6. (Dee's workshop is aptly named "Steeped in Sheep.")
The event, proudly sponsored by the Wisconsin Farmers Union Foundation, along with the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service and Renewing the Countryside, showcases an incredible community of women farmers around Monroe and Brodhead in southern Wisconsin.
"I always know I can call on the Soil Sisters. We help each other in the network," Dee said, as she gingerly pats a lamb named Basil.
"It hasn't always been this way," said Claudia Dela Ends of Scotch Hill Farm near Brodhead. "You have to find your tribe," she advises others who are working to build community in their own regions.
The Soil Sisters tour was born out of a number of networking events and potlucks held in the area.
"I think as farmers it's easy for us to stay in our own little bubble on our farms," said Katy Dickson, who has established Christensen's Farm, a CSA farm just across the road from the dairy farm where she was raised near Browntown. "Until I starting attending potlucks hosted by our local Women in Sustainable Ag group, I had no idea how many incredible women farmers lived nearby."
She looks forward to hosting an Art in the Outdoors workshop with her sister during Soil Sisters and opening her farm for tours.
"I think getting people out of their usual habitat and showing them where their food comes from is so incredibly important," Dickson said.
With 20 workshops and other activities spread throughout the three days, Soil Sisters tourists can craft their own farm and culinary adventure.
From heirloom tomatoes to pickles, sheep to solar energy, farmstay bed & breakfasts to beef, the farmers and artisan food producers will share a unique diversity of farm experiences that highlight the summer’s bounty.
Visitors can choose from a variety of activities, including a Farm to Table Dinner at Dorothy’s Range, Taste of Place culinary event at Cow & Quince or a Pizza on the Farm fundraiser. Area restaurants will feature specials throughout the weekend. For the on‐farm workshops, participants can preserve the harvest, make some cheese, paint some barn board art or just relax on a tree swing.
If there's one thing visitors can be sure of, it's that they won't leave the countryside feeling under-nourished. The Soil Sisters' recipe to success for building community is a blend of networking and good food.
Wander in for a session on baking bread or join in the fun on Friday evening and meet the farmers during the Taste of Place event at Cow & Quince. This bold little restaurant, owned by Soil Sister and entrepreneur Lori Stern is known for its use of local ingredients, unique flair and creative menu.
"There’s something for everyone," said Soil Sisters organizer and author Lisa Kivirst, who will host Pizza on the Farm at her family's Inn Serendipity in Browntown. She notes each days' activities are family-friendly but also a fun chance for a girls' day or couples retreat.
South Central Wisconsin Farmers Union President Kriss Marion will also host an In Her Boots workshop from 10am to 3pm on Aug. 4 at Circle M Market Farm in Blanchardville. The event will feature Start-up Strategies for Women Farmers, with advice from a team of Soil Sisters.
At the request of the savvy Sisters, Governor Walker has proclaimed the first week of August as Women in Sustainable and Organic Agriculture Week, showcasing the growth of the movement in Wisconsin. Women represent approximately 11 percent of primary operators on all farms in Wisconsin, a higher number than neighboring Midwest states. Wisconsin has 1,180 organic farms, second only to California.
“Soil Sisters highlights a cross-section of women farmers, representing one of the fastest growing groups of new growers prioritizing small-scale, diversified, community-‐focused agriculture,” says Tom Quinn, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Farmers Union Foundation.
Photo: John D. Ivanko
“Come meet your farmers and learn about local, seasonal food and how we can all transform what’s on our plate,” Kivirst said.
For me, a spring visit to their neck of the woods offered a look into the lives of the Soil Sisters that felt a bit like glimpsing the pulse of the countryside.
Though they share stories, laughter and a love for their rural way of life, no two farms or farmers are exactly alike. Their paths to farming are varied. Woven among them are tales of farm transitions, some heartbreak, leaving the family farm only to find it is where you long to be, or of life in the city left for quieter days working in the soil.
Born out of sweat and love, the farms are tended by this hardy, inspiring and welcoming group that have become the Soil Sisters.
Visit www.soilsisterswi.org for more details and to find purchase links for ticketed events.