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Women in Agriculture: A Review of Lisa Kivirist’s Message

Hastily paging through the Conference Program for MOSES 2010, I quickly found the title I was looking for: “Opportunities and Inspiration for Women Farmers and Ecopreneurs.” I smiled to myself, remembering that Lisa Kivirist, author of ECOpreneuring, Rural Renaissance and Edible Earth, would be teaching it once again. Having attended her class at last year’s conference, I knew I would walk out of her class nothing less than inspired.
As a young woman fresh out of college searching for a career path in sustainable food systems, Lisa’s message sunk right in: “Turn your passions and purpose into an enterprise.” For women in the agriculture business or women interested in joining the movement, her words represent assurance and confidence. Unashamedly idealistic, I dream large and have set my job standards quite high. Yet Lisa’s knowledge reinforced the importance of dreaming big. Pairing her message with examples of women around the country who have created balanced, healthy and successful agriculture careers, she convincingly described how to take big dreams and passions and turn them into a creative life mission. I would like to share Lisa’s message with you.

Self employment and partnerships present opportunities to be creative in designing your own business or job description. First, Lisa states that self-employment supports a healthy lifestyle because it caters to your needs and the needs of your family. Working for others has the potential to not only lead to unwarranted stress but insecurity as well. When a woman controls the all aspects of her own job, she holds confidence in the position. Stresses from authority diminish; anxiety levels drop. Attendance and energy levels increase. Create your own job, and you’ll want to be there. To be the manager of your own space and time will create an empowering independence. As Confucius wrote, “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”

A job that has you never working a day is based on values. Lisa declared that successful jobs should be based on our personal values. She explained that many jobs today are measured quantitatively, not qualitatively. Measuring success quantitatively does not align with measuring values based on success. Most of the women I know are inherently affectionate and compassionate people. Such characteristics lend well to qualitative measurement and, as Lisa explained, reinforce her triple bottom line of business. The triple bottom line: people, planet, economy.

  • People: Understand the needs of your customers, vendors and employees.

  • Planet: Restore and conserve nature.

  • Economy: Reinvest in the future.

But really, ladies, how do we go about doing this? We can begin by thinking about Lisa’s ten “Fresh Seed Ideas”:

  1. Kiss off long-term planning: Have confidence in yourself and your ideas. Worrying and planning too far in advance is a waste of time if you cannot see what is present.

  2. Collaborate with friends: Look to the people you trust for support in start up.

  3. Blending practice and passion: Practice what you are passionate about, and be passionate about what you practice.

  4. Garner inspiration from abundance: Be creative in your search and you’ll find materials and supplies in abundance. Utilize abundance to your advantage.

  5. Question your role: I would add “always.” Ask yourself what is it that I want and what is it that I want to change?

  6. Integrate children: Question your assumptions about having family play a role or roles in your job.

  7. Mind your diversified business: Take advantage of the business structure in our nation; small is a competitive advantage.

  8. Tap into “Multiple Economies of ECOprenuership”: Utilize all of your creative passions in the creation of your lifestyle, and ultimately, your job.

  9. Puzzle the pieces: Redefine what a job means to you; puzzle the pieces together. Reflect your values in your job.

  10. Advocate for women farmers: We’re all in this movement together.

Lisa’s class had my mind germinating with ideas to act upon. She demonstrated that our dream jobs are more than intangible goals; with the right inputs, they can grow to be reasonable, healthy and successful careers. Although this article only begins to scratch the surface of Lisa’s intelligence, I hope her fertile ideas have caused your goals to sprout!



Community, Gardeners & Film

I am so grateful I was able to attend MOSES, Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, or as I like to say, “Disney World” for organic and sustainable food supporters. Seriously, piles of local organic cheeses, chips, salsas, milk, cookies, breads on hand at all times…it was like heaven for a foodie. Even the alcohol was organic. However, it was more than just the food that made this conference out-of-this-world spectacular. What makes this conference special is the community it draws. It is unlike any other: farmers from around the country, food policy advocates, educators, home gardeners, and seed vendors, to name a few. The mix of people can’t be found anywhere else. In fact, I feel so proud to say that in February, La Crosse, Wisconsin, is home to the largest organic farming conference in North America. It was a pleasure to be part of it.

The people this event draws are some of the most amazing, progressive and brave individuals out there—people like the Fisher-Merritt Farm Family who have been growing organically for 37 years on the edge of the northwoods, a challenging area located between zones 3 and 4. Through their farm, appropriately called Food Farm, the Fisher-Merritts provide their community with a local harvest nine months out of the year and offer their mentorship to novice farmers. They were truly an inspiration to hear speak. If you want to feel inspired yourself, visit their website: renewing-

Although most workshops at the event were geared toward farmers, or soon-to-be farmers, and often addressed very technical issues like crop rotation, parasite control in organic livestock, and business strategies, there was a place for the thrifty home gardener. I attended a session titled, “Certified Organic Specialty Mushroom Production on Locally Available Substrates.” I now feel very comfortable pursuing my long-time dream of inoculating and growing my very own mushrooms in my backyard. This workshop was taught by Joe Krawczyk of Field and Forest Products. Joe and his wife Mary Ellen have been producing mushrooms and mushroom spawn for 25 years and had a plethora of valuable information to share with the workshop’s attendees. They sell a variety of things on their website ( such as starter sets, kits, cultivation tools, spawn, and even mushroom-themed gifts. I encourage you to check them out if you have any interest in growing your own mushrooms or seeking expert advice on the topic.

The conference also had films playing throughout the day and night. Taking a break during one of the workshop periods, I decided to check out a film called What’s on Your Plate?, a documentary film about kids and food politics, directed by Catherine Gund.

As an Americorps Farm to School Nutrition Educator, this film struck me in a powerful way. The film follows two 11-year old girls as they explore their connection to food and the greater environment. They take a look at school lunch and question what, literally, is on their plates. Some things are unidentifiable from their origin, for example: chicken nuggets, which contain a very small percentage of actual chicken. On their journey for the truth they begin to discover that the food system we currently rely on is completely unsustainable and doomed for disaster.

For me and all you other local food advocates out there, this movie is preaching to the choir, however, it has a fresh perspective coming from two young girls instead of the typical fresh-food activist adult. I highly recommend it.

Now that I’m on the topic of excellent food movies to check out, I’m going to throw a few more titles out there for those of you who prefer learning through a more visual medium. Here are some of my favorites: The Real Dirt on Farmer John; King Corn; Big River; Ingredients; Food, Inc.; The Future of Food; Fast Food Nation; Homegrown; Back to the Land...Again; Localize Me and Soilin Good Heart.

In conclusion, the MOSES conference was one fun-filled weekend of learning, laughing and reconnecting with old friends from around the country and enjoying the freshest, most savory dishes imaginable. I hope to have the chance to go back someday. Thank you, Willy Street Co-op for granting me this wonderful opportunity!