Reading for Change: Soil Sisters by Lisa Kivirist

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If you close your eyes and picture a farmer, chances are you don’t see a young woman who lives in a city, or even a middle aged woman living in a rural area. Chances are you don’t picture a woman at all. Traditionally, we tend to think of agriculture as a male-dominated field. It’s time to change these preconceptions and encourage, support, and celebrate female farmers.

According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, in 2012, 30 percent of famers in the United States were women, with even higher percentages in certain regions. Internationally, women comprise up to of half of agricultural workforces. These numbers are increasing exponentially, as domestically, the movement for sustainable food becomes more popular, and abroad, the need for agricultural output grows alongside the world’s population.

Women face unique experiences as well as challenges in agriculture, but there is also an enormous potential for success. Many people who may be interested in starting a farm but don’t know where to start or how to navigate the market as they go along. Luckily, there is a growing field of information and advice tailored for women farmers.    

Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers by Lisa Kivirist is a great example. This all-inclusive guide for any woman interested in breaking into the world of agriculture offers detailed answers for practically any question a female farmer may have in mind, at any step of their process. From a brief and honorable history of women in farming, to what size toolshed to put up, to licensing and legal advice, fundraising solutions, and even how to prevent injury, Soil Sisters is an educational one-stop-shop. One section can even coach you in the proper body language to engage in when confronting another farmer whose pesticides have blown onto your plot. Soil Sisters has truly taken into account what it means to be female in agriculture and makes the effort to consider any diverse or unique experience a women farmer may have along the way.

The book also features diverse inspirational quotes, quick pieces of advice from established “soil sisters,” practical tips and resource lists, and the firsthand accounts of “seasoned and successful women.” It’s flush with useful information and inspiration, and if the idea of farming appeals to you at all, this book comes highly recommended – obviously for women, but the sage advice and well-researched gendered lens that supports it is beneficial for anyone.

One such piece of inspiration comes from Sonia Kendrick, founding farmer of Feed Iowa First, and Army veteran featured in the film Terra Firma: A Film About Women, War and Healing. She says, “Whomever controls our food controls us. The root of our democratic right to rule ourselves lies in our ability to feed ourselves. We can grow ourselves out of this mess because I believe plows are greater than swords.”

Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers is available from its and via New Society Publishers.

Photo credit: Josh Witzel/Brava Enterprises

Lisa Kivirist is the author of the new book, Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers and is a Senior Fellow, Endowed Chair in Agricultural Systems at the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Minnesota and directs the Rural Women’s Project of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES).   She and her husband, John Ivanko, are co-authors of Homemade for Sale, Farmstead Chef, ECOpreneuring and Rural Renaissance.  Lisa and John and their son, Liam, run Inn Serendipity Farm and Bed & Breakfast, an award-winning diversified farm operation completely powered by the wind and the sun and nestled in the rolling green hills of southern Wisconsin. 

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