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'Soil Sisters': Green County woman writes book about sustainable ag

Lisa Kivirist is a farmer, author, lecturer, bed and breakfast operator and advocate for sustainable agriculture

September 4, 2016

4 Min Read

"Whether we're reconnecting with our family's agrarian roots or plowing new ground, like I am, we share a sisterhood with Mother Nature and wildly want to care for her soil, plant her seeds, harvest her abundance and transform her sustenance into healthy, nourishing meals for our families and communities."

That's farmer, author, lecturer, bed and breakfast operator and strong advocate for sustainable agriculture Lisa Kivirist writing in her newest book, "Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers."

Women farmers


According to USDA, women make up 14% of the principal farm operators in the U.S. and their numbers in Wisconsin, most in smaller food or fiber enterprises, are up 25% over the last 15 years. So it follows that someone would write a book for those women wanting to further the cause of sustainable, organic agriculture.

That's what Kivirist does in "Soil Sisters," published earlier this year. The book draws on the experiences and expertise of more than 100 women farmers, some large, some small, and especially the author's own, to offer tips on business plans and structure, a variety of possible enterprises from field to barn to kitchen, marketing, communication, rules and regulations, resources, grant applications, remodeling farm buildings, farm to table meals and other aspects of agricultural tourism and, of course, growing crops and livestock.

"I wrote ('Soil Sisters') ... as a platform, a springboard, to keep our women farmer movement propelled forward, mobilized and collaborative," Kivirist says.


Powerful words from a woman without an ag background who left a metropolitan ad agency job after just a few years to farm and operate a bed and breakfast. That was 20 years ago. She and her husband, fellow author John D. Ivanko, and their son, Liam, farm 5 acres near Browntown in Green County. She says they made the choice after weekend trips to Wisconsin introduced them to the state's "rolling green hills," which she professes to love.

"We were really drawn to the rural countryside here in Wisconsin."

They married in 1996 and celebrated by buying and moving to their small farm. It was a first-time experience for both.

"Other than my enthrallment with 'Little House on the Prairie,'" she writes in her book, "the word 'farmer' had never found its way onto my career radar.... I lugged my trusted Rodale 'Organic Gardening Guide' to the field."

The book is both informative and entertaining with an occasional earthy tone not at all connected to soil. Kivirist has collaborated with her husband on several books, generally dealing with agriculture. "Soil Sisters," in fact, is a kind of sequel to their co-authored book, "Rural Renaissance: Renewing the Quest for the Good Life."

They have found that life on their little corner of Wisconsin, just across the line from Illinois. Moving from field to barn to computer keyboard to speaker's podium and from kitchen to breakfast table, they have an eclectic mix of enterprises to fulfill their livelihood.

"We have a real strong seasonal approach," Kivirist says. In August, she reveals, there was a lot of zucchini on the table. "In winter things are slower. We regroup and plan for next season." And they write. She already has another book in mind.

Award-winning inn

Their award-winning Inn Serendipity B&B has two guest bedrooms and breakfast tables are set almost exclusively from the farm's output. "We're very self-sufficient," she says. "We raise 70% of our foods, so we can eat well throughout the year."

The inn, according to its website, innserendipity.com, "is completely powered by renewable energy and placed among "The Top Ten Eco-Destinations in North America."

Five years ago, Kivirist formed with 20 other women farmers in Green County a Soil Sisters tour of farms that includes workshops and culinary events. Attendees this year came from France and all over the Midwest. "The net is casting wider and wider," Kivirist notes. In August, when the tours were held, the governor proclaimed "Women in Sustainable and Organic Agriculture Week" in Wisconsin.

Self-confident, enthusiastic and given to promoting sustainable farming at any opportunity, Kivirist is an active member of Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) and in high demand as a speaker and facilitator on her visions for agriculture. She credits other women farmers with helping her learn farming and says MOSES "was our first portal of connection to other farmers in the Midwest."  She went on to form and coordinate the Rural Women's Project within MOSES, is a food and community fellow with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and senior fellow in agriculture systems at the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. She has a communications degree from Northwestern University.

Ivanko, who has a bachelor's degree in business and a master's in leisure studies, also gives lectures and is an award-winning author and photographer at John D. Ivanko Photography.

The two, along with 14-year-old Liam, are continuing to build the soil on their small farm.

"It's an ongoing process," she says. "We've got a lot of worms now, so it's good. The farm, Kivirist laughs, "is part of our entertainment." And, she goes on, it's been Liam's "lifestyle growing up. It's affecting him in a very positive way."

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