Women Farmers Supporting the Next Generation of Sustainability

Final Report for YENC12-040

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2012: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Grant Recipient: Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES)
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Manager:
Lisa Kivirist
Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES)
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Project Information


Final Tour Name
Soil Sisters: South Central Wisconsin Women in Sustainable Agriculture Farm Tour

• Project Number: YENC12-040
• Project Duration: March 16, 2012 – April 30, 2014
• Date of Report: Jan 1, 2012

The team of seven women-owned farms involved with the Soil Sisters tour, along with other partners like the MOSES Rural Women’s Project and Green County UW Extension, collectively brought a wealth of history and experiences in youth and sustainability education and community outreach to this project, from leading 4-H groups to hosting summer farm camps. However, this grant gave us a unique opportunity to collectively work together to create an even stronger collaborative event.

These women farmers represented a diverse mix of seasoned growers and beginning farmers, ranging from under five years to over 15 years in business and representing an age span of 20s through 60s. All share a strong commitment to youth education and bring a range of educator experience to this project, from teachers to 4-H leaders to home schooling parents. This is truly one of those “strength in collaboration” efforts. While each individual farm operation had varying educator experience, ranging from Kinkoona Farm’s summer camps to Sugar Maple Emu Farm school tours to Circle M Farm fiber workshops, together the Soil Sisters tour brought all these collective experiences together.

While the MOSES Rural Women’s Project had been involved in women farmer training and had a solid network for publicity and outreach, Soil Sisters provided the opportunity to focus on youth education, connecting women farmers with the next generation.

Women Farmers Supporting the Next Generation of Sustainability was a collaborative educational farm open house called Soil Sisters that was held on August 5, 2012, showcasing seven women-owned and operated sustainable operations in the Green County area of Wisconsin. The goal of this project was to connect youth with local women farmers and to provide educational outreach on sustainable agriculture. The farm tours and related kids activities collectively highlighted a diverse range of sustainable agriculture practices, with a particular focus on:

• Diversity
Each of these farms, while distinctly different, showcased that important diversity element of sustainable agriculture. Each participating farm raises a variety of items from eggplants to emus, fueling a diversity of business income sources from farmers’ market sales to agritourism. The take-away from both kids and adult attendees was a better understanding of the importance of diversity within sustainable agriculture, from an environmental perspective to business risk-management.

• Integration
Participants learned this diversity is not random, but instead it is a strategic element of sustainable agriculture: all elements of nature working together in an integrated manner, supporting and helping each other. Beneficial insects (bees) pollinate the vegetables and add value to farm income. Everything works together in a holistic system.

• Collaboration
Importantly, this participating women farmer group knows each other well and showcases that underlying element of sustainable agriculture: collaboration and farmers helping and supporting each other. As most attendees came to more than one farm, this element was showcased as it quickly became clear we all knew each other as both friends and agricultural colleagues. Additionally, other women in our local, informal “Green County Area Women in Sustainable Agriculture” group who were not participating in the tour happily came out to volunteer at the various farm sites as well.

Each farm provided a different multi-sensory, inspiring farm experience enabling all attendees to better understand key sustainable agriculture elements, with a particular emphasis on:
• Rotational grazing
• Cover crops
• Crop/Landscape Diversity
• Value-Added and Direct Marketing
• Organic Agriculture
• Poultry and Small-Scale Livestock Production
• Proactive Weed Control

Each farm also provided a recipe featuring their produce or meats. The recipes were available both online and via printed recipe cards at each farm site. Specific experiential activities and recipes are listed below.

Circle M Farm, Kriss Marion
Youth Activity: Spinning demonstrations and a variety of wool felting activities using colored locks, rovings.
Recipe: Chocolate Basil Cake

Grassroots Farm, Lindsey Morris Carpenter and Gail Carpenter
Youth Activity: “Build-a-Bouquet” activity to learn about cut flower growing and harvesting and leave with a big bouquet for your family.
Recipe: Simple Fresh Tomato Salsa

Kinkoona Farm, Suellen Thompson-Link and Family
Youth Activity: The children's activity focused on teaching kids about the processing of the wool from the sheep to the product. Different stations were set up to show the various steps and care of the different wools. Additionally, daughter Sundara received a Youth Grant to develop a produce business targeting chef sales. This project was highlighted during the farm tour.
Recipe: Lamb and Honey Meatballs

Lucky Dog Farm, Lori Stern and Leann Powers
Youth Activity: Farm tour with pencil rubbings. Kids tour the farm, stopping to see the various animals and the gardens. A “farm passport” encourages kids to create rubbings of the old stone foundation of the barn, various animal footprints, and some vegetables too.
Recipe: Orange Lavender Shortbread Cookies
Note: Due to an unexpected death in the family the same weekend as the tour, Lucky Dog Farm was unable to participate in the actual tour but still strongly contributed to the process and material creation.

Scotch Hill Farm, Dela Ends
Youth Activity: Kids explored a bean teepee, transplanted a few fall veggie plants to take home, visited the goats, and snacked on some veggie treats fresh from the garden.
Recipe: Abigail’s Coleslaw

Sugar Maple Emu Farm, Joylene Reavis
Youth Activity: Participants watched an educational video on emus, followed by a pen tour to see the emus up close and a visit back to the “Emu Store” where they were given activity sheets, a piece of emu egg shell and a sticker that tells the world “I Saw the Emu”.
Recipe: Emu Bar-B-Q

Inn Serendipity, Lisa Kivirist
Youth Activity: During the farm tour, kids participated in an “Inn Serendipity Sleuth Scavenger Hunt,” through which they identified various sustainable agriculture practices, including landscape diversity, value-added and direct marketing (farm stay) and renewable energy systems.
Recipe: Zucchini Feta Pancakes

The following outlines the process our group went through to create Soil Sisters, once we received the Youth Educator Grant award.

1. Confirmed Participants and Date
• We reconfirmed participating farms. From our original list of eight farms, two farms dropped out (Sunflower Hill Farm and Perennial Journey Farm) and a new farm was added (Lucky Dog Farm). Two farms could no longer participate due to summer scheduling conflicts and/or not feeling ready to go on public tour. We found it necessary to re-confirm all participants to make sure everyone was 100 percent on board and committed to this project as we were heading into the busy farming summer season and we all collectively knew we would have limited time resources.
• We also reconfirmed the tour date: Sunday, Aug. 5. It was a challenge to find a date that worked for everyone’s schedule, particularly a summer weekend date that didn’t conflict with local county fairs or farmers’ market commitments.

2. Created Materials
• Lisa Kivirist collected descriptive copy from each farm and worked with Tina White/TW Graphics and web designer Nikki Lennart to create the printed materials (brochure and flyer) and website (www.soilsisterswi.org). We were very fortunate as both White and Lennart were generously willing to work with our small budget to create beautiful materials that went a long way in promoting the event. We will also now be able to more quickly adapt these materials for future tours.
• Lisa Kivirist wrote a general press release along with other shorter variations for distribution.

3. Distributed Material
• Our women farmer host team collaboratively helped distribute these publicity materials in various ways:
o Distributing brochures at farmers’ markets
o Including brochure in CSA delivery boxes
o Listing event on various websites/calendar listings (Joylene Reavis/Sugar Maple Emu connected the event with the various agritourism organization she is involved with)
o Sending out press release (Grassroots Farm provided a detailed Chicago media list)
o Posting on farm websites and blogs
o Posting flyers locally
o Giving interviews to the media (see full media list under Outreach)

• Various collaborative organizations and agencies helped distribute information, including:
o UW Extension
o Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES); e-newsletter
o Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN); listserve

4. Facilitated Tour Day
• Each farm organized and hosted their site. We did have some general guidelines for consistency such as:
o Each farm displayed “boots and balloons” at their driveway to identify tour sites
o Farm hosts and volunteers wore Soil Sisters t-shirts for identification
o Hosted a welcome table with a sign-in sheet and information

5. Evaluation
• An on-line survey was sent to all attendees who signed in and provided an e-mail.
• Feedback was collected from all farm host sites
• This final report was written, incorporating the above.

6. 2013 Plans
• Keeping the above learning in mind, we are starting to plan for a 2013 tour.

The success of this project was due to a strong, collaborative team of individuals working together, including:

1. Women farmers and families
In addition to the women farmer names listed, everyone’s respective families including spouses, partners, and children helped bring each tour site to life:

o Circle M Farm, Kriss Marion
o Grassroots Farm, Lindsey Morris Carpenter and Gail Carpenter
o Kinkoona Farm, Sue Ellen Thompson-Link
o Lucky Dog Farm, Lori Stern and Leanne Powers
o Note: Due to an unexpected death in the family the same weekend as the tour, Lucky Dog Farm was unable to participate in the actual tour but still strongly contributed to the process and material creation.
o Scotch Hill Farm, Dela Ends
o Sugar Maple Emu Farm, Joylene Reavis
o Inn Serendipity, Lisa Kivirist

2. UW Extension
Cara Carper, Green County Community Resource Development Educator, was an extremely strong ally and partner in bringing Soil Sisters to life. From in-kind printing contributions to outreach assistance to even personally volunteering herself with her daughter at two farm sites during the tour day, we couldn’t have done this without Carper’s and Green County UW Extension’s support.

3. Neighbors and Community members
Various local neighbors, community members and others helped with this project, particularly as “extra hands” during the actual farm tour day, including area 4-H students. Local volunteers Don and Phyllis Toberman helped tremendously at Sugar Maple Emu Farm. Additionally, CSA members at Grassroots Farm volunteered at various farm stations.

4. Green County Area Women in Sustainable Agriculture Network
Our local network of women farmers strongly contributed to the success of this tour day, both from volunteering on-site and helping publicize the event through handing out flyers, e-mail communications and distributing flyers through their CSA/customer networks. Specifically, Betty Grotophorst, Jen Riemer, Erika Jones and Jamie Baker – along with their children and farm interns – provided dedicated volunteer hours.

• We sent an online survey to all attendees who gave us their e-mail the week after the Tour, along with a thank you for attending. Key survey highlights support the success of our inaugural event include:

When asked: “Would you attend such an event in the future?”: 100% said yes!

On a 5 point scale with 5 being the highest:

How much did this Soil Sisters event help you better connect with local farmers and gain a deeper understanding of sustainable agriculture?: 4.75

60 percent purchased products from the farms they visited

On outreach:
How did you hear about the Soil Sister event:
Newspaper: 20 percent
MOSES e-newsletter: 20 percent
Listserve: 10 percent
Lots of “other” replies: direct from a participating farm/farmer, church bulletins, Facebook

• Each farm had a sign-up sheet out on their welcome table and each farm received well over 100 attendees, some as high as 200.

• The tour concept, overall format and warm hospitality of the farm hosts was very well received. Some direct attendee quotes:

“What a grand day – thank you. I know what the phrase ‘feed my soul’ means and feels like. Here’s hoping there’s a second year for the Soil Sisters Tour.”

“Thanks so much for hosting the Soil Sisters tour at your farm on Sunday! We had such an enjoyable visit and learned so much. You added the right diversity to the tour and your emus are fascinating!”

“Beautiful farm! Way to keep the farm dream alive!”

“What great passion for sharing all the good on this farm. Thank you!”

“What a fun day my husband and I had on the Soil sisters tour. The variety of farms was perfect. The farmers were knowledgeable and presented their practices so very well. Our only complain was that they were so interesting, we stayed too long at each farm and were unable to see all six within the time frame!”

• Many “day tripper” families from urban areas within 2 to 3 hours drive, particularly the Chicago area.

• A strong segment of attendees were folks interested in starting a diversified market garden business. Many of the farm hosts commented on the number of in-depth conversations they had with attendees on topics such as how to naturally control pests in the cut flower garden through pollinators. Farm tours often tended to be quite detailed and specific.

• Strong on-farm sales helped boost farm income. For example, Scotch Hill Farm generated over $300 in soap/vegetable sales and Sugar Maple Emu Farm brought in brisk sales totaling $675.00 income for the sale of emu oil, emu oil products and emu meat. Each farm had the opportunity to have their products for sale and we communicated this to potential attendees via the outreach materials, reminding them to bring a cooler and cash (most farms did not take credit cards). Additionally, the tour promoted CSA membership. For example, Circle M Farm reported that they had several new people express interest in a future CSA membership, as well as about two dozen of their current CSA members attending.

• The recipe cards proved to be a generally popular take-away at each site (each site had recipes from all the farms on display and available).

• We created some general guidelines for consistency at each farm such as displaying “boots and balloons” at your driveway to identify farm sites and have an easily identifiable welcome table. However, importantly, each farm had open opportunity to express themselves and organize their tour as they saw fit. This allowed each farm to offer a completely different experience and all our hosts wonderfully created a beautiful, appealing experience, from decorating with fresh cut flowers to offering garden-fresh snacks. Kriss Marion of Circle M Farm even organized a jam-session performance with a local bluegrass band she plays in, Moo Grass!

Overall, the Soil Sisters tour day was a strong success and exceeded our expectations as a first time event and we look forward to continuing a similar format in 2013. Our full survey results are attached. Some of our key learnings and insights are below:

• For many kids, it was their first time ever on a farm. The experience was so powerful and inspiring that they immediately wanted to share it with others. For example, this comment from Grassroots Farm:
“The 8-year old child of a new Evanston (Chicago suburb) CSA member came to the little talk we gave outside the brooder coop with our 3-week old chicks and listened intently to our explanation of how old the chicks were, where they came from and what we are going to do with them when they are old enough to be outside. She then proceeded to stay at the coop and talk to and enthusiastically share that information with everyone who passed by. I don’t think she had even ever been to a farm before and it was so rewarding to experience this process.”

• The more onsite volunteers during the tour day, the better! This is especially important at farm sites that do not have large families to lend a hand. Farm hosts cannot “do it all” so it’s best to have dedicated volunteers on the kids’ activities and keep the activities simple. It’s also important to have one person dedicated as a “greeter” at each farm to welcome folks as they arrive and quickly orient them with the place and schedule. We could further recruit members of our local Green County Area Women in Sustainable Agriculture group as well as further connect with 4-H and the Green County Dairy Queens as well as other local service groups for volunteers. The Soil Sisters t-shirts strongly helped identify farm hosts and volunteers.

• The organization and logistics of such events takes time, especially when you are coordinating things among a group of understandably busy farmers. Our project succeeded as Lisa Kivirist could help facilitate this via her role as director of the MOSES Rural Women’s Project. While this was very much a collaborative event, it helps to have one key contact person in charge, particularly related to organizing all the descriptions and copy for the outreach materials. For future events, we’d recommend having all the materials finalized by early spring as summer rolls in quickly and everyone is very busy on the farm.

• As with any outdoor event, weather plays a key role. While we were fortunate that the weather on our actual tour day was clear and relatively pleasant for August, our date came after several weeks of extreme heat and drought. Although we were pleased with our attendance numbers, this summer heat undoubtedly affected turnout, as people were generally by that point of the summer leery of all-day, outside events. As there are so many other competing events during summer weekends such as county fairs, we will look to doing this in September in 2013. A September date might also encourage more local attendees.

• While the kids’ activities were well received, the majority of attendees were adults without children (i.e., not bringing young kids with them). We could further increase outreach on the “family friendly” aspect of the day, as well as potentially target grandparents looking for an interesting, educational outing with their grandkids.

• Given that many of the adult attendees were interested in starting farm operations, it would make sense next time to have more specific SARE information available as resources.

• Online materials and the creation of our website (www.soilsisterswi.org) proved to be the key communications outlets. We did a printed brochure which folks could also download from the website; however, given the growth of GPS systems and online mapping, we didn’t need to create lots of printed directions as attendees could get that information online. Some website ideas for next year include a blog for further interaction and to encourage attendees to connect for carpooling.

• While we did communicate on the website and via our materials that there is distance (as much as one hour driving) between the farms on the tour and this event is not intended for folks to visit each farm, many folks still felt compelled to make each farm site and ended up a bit exhausted by the end of the afternoon. Creating on the main website a master schedule of events for the farms might help attendees plan their day and route (i.e., farms host activities at 2:00 and 4:00).

• We learned the importance of adapting ideas as the project evolved and keeping things simple. For example, we originally planned to do a printed cookbook with all the farm contributed recipes but did individual recipe cards instead which worked just as well and was much simpler and cost-effective. Additionally, we had originally envisioned each farm giving kid attendees a complimentary produce or other sample with which to make this recipe. Given the volume of people and the craziness of the tour day, we smartly instead just focused on recipe distribution and creating strong hands-on activities on each farm.

• We also learned the importance of being flexible in the budget. We originally planned for eight farms and ended up with seven. Lucky Dog Farm unfortunately needed to cancel due to an unexpected death in the family and donated their $175 supply fee back to the program budget. This extra $350 then went into covering graphic and outreach overages, including the host T-shirts that worked extremely well for identification and consistency/branding of the event.

• As many attendees were day-trippers from the Chicago area, the Soil Sisters event holds strong tourism opportunity in the future to encourage folks to come for the weekend, spending the night and further explore the area and our agriculture community. One idea would be to dedicate the day prior to the tour to fee-based on-farm workshops on the different host farms. For example, Circle M farm could host a fiber workshop and folks interested could come in a day early and register/pay directly for that workshop.

• Long-term planning if this tour and interest continues over the next few years is to increase the region and number of farms to cover a broader area, such as 15 farms covering 8 counties. This would make it more like a regional destination event and involve more people and, understandably, require additional funding and resources.

• Many free publicity venues are out there, from on-line calendar listings to weekly community newspapers to church bulletins. The key, we learned, is getting materials to these outlets ahead of time as many just come out monthly and/or have lengthy lead times.

• Creating engaging materials that clearly communicated the event was very important. We were fortunate to find a local graphic designer and web designer who were willing to donate much of their services in-kind to create the overall graphic look for this event. Additionally, the “Soil Sisters” name proved to be very memorable.

• Other ideas for future tours include: Organizing bike routes for avid cyclists.

Key Materials created for this project:
• Tri-fold brochure/Black and White (attached)
• Tri-color brochure/Color (attached)
• Flyer/color (attached)
• Main press release (attached)
• Short Blurb (attached)

• Recipe cards (attached; one for each farm for 7 total)
• Website: www.soilsisterswi.org

We received strong state-wide coverage of the Soil Sisters tour, over TV, radio and print. This outreach took time to facilitate (including writing strong press releases), but resulted in wide coverage, including:

NBC-15 Madison (7/25/12)
Women Farmers Feature with Lisa Kivirist & Erin Schneider, Hilltop Community Farm

Wisconsin Farm Report (8/3/12)
Farm News: Soil Sisters Tour Sunday

The Country Today (7/24/12)
Wisconsin Women Host Farm Tours

Agri-View (7/30/12)
Soil Sisters: WI women farmers host farm tours Aug. 5

Additional Soil Sisters tour coverage:
• Wisconsin State Farmer
• WEKZ Radio Monroe (7/21/12)
• Monroe Times
• Wisconsin Foodie
• Lake Summerset (monthly newspaper)
• Independent Register – Brodhead (weekly local newspaper)
• Brodhead Free Press (weekly local newspaper)
• Farm Bureau Newsletter

Additionally and importantly, our outreach surrounding the Soil Sisters tour helped further promote the sustainable agriculture voice in other media outlets. For example, a Chicago-based freelance writer for Grist, Chris Weber, saw the Soil Sisters tour information and contacted Lisa Kivirist as he wanted to interview women on the tour for their perspectives on how the summer’s drought affected them. Kivirist connected Weber with Dela Ends/Scotch Hill and Joy Reavis/Sugar Maple Emu. Here is the final piece:

Grist (7/19/12)
A dry run from hell: Drought hits the smallest farms the hardest

This final report will be available for people and organizations interested in hosting such tours and will be communicated via the UW Extension networks, the Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). There is interest for an additional Soil Sisters tour site in West Central Wisconsin for 2013 as well. Our future plans for outreach for 2013 would build on this 2012 outreach, providing released tour photos for publication.

We are grateful for this opportunity and thank the North Central Region SARE Program for all their support. Joan Benjamin was always very accessible and helpful in the process and the online registration process moved smoothly. This $2,000 grant exemplifies how far and wide some seed funding can go; we feel we accomplished a lot with this funding and now have a framework, materials and learning for future farm tours. Thank you!

One specific thing: We did not have nor knew about the “NCR-SARE Image Consent form” so we do not have that for any of the photos of the attendees. That said, given the volume of people and limited volunteers on-site, asking attendees to sign that form (which would technically need to happen at each farm site) would have been unwieldy.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Lindsey Carpenter
  • Cara Carper
  • Dela Ends
  • Lisa Kivirist
  • Kriss Marion
  • Joylene Reavis
  • Lori Stern
  • Suellen Thomson-Link

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.