Editor's note: This article is the first in a series featuring members of the Soil Sisters. The community of women farmers advocate for family farming and locally produced food. The group “showcases the increasing role women farmers play in our rural areas, representing one of the fastest-growing groups of new growers prioritizing small-scale, diversified, community-focused agriculture,” said FL Morris of Grassroots Farm near Monroe, Wisconsin, and a "Soil Sister."
Comprised mainly of women farmers in Wisconsin’s Green County, the "Soil Sisters" produce a diversity of products – from cattle, pigs, sheep and poultry to fresh-market vegetables and more. Some also operate bed-and-breakfast businesses and sell baked goods.
BLANCHARDVILLE, Wis. -- Featured first is April Prusia who raises pigs on pasture at Dorothy's Range near Blanchardville.
When and why did you join Soil Sisters?
Prusia: I love networking and sharing information and resources. I love food, making a difference in our community and lifting up "farmhers."
When and why did you begin farming?
Prusia: I studied environmental science in college in northern California and then moved back to the Midwest to "plant roots." Everything points back to food; soon after farming part-time and literally planting roots, I realized I was in my "field." One can’t discuss sustainability or ethics without food being part of the conversation. I gardened with my father a bit when I was a child; we always had food around us. My father raised chickens. I remember plucking and stuffing them.
I had a part-time gig working on an artichoke farm while studying for my bachelor’s degree. I remember the farm’s woman-owner being extra strong and firm on her feet. I have a bit of that going on now too.
When I moved to Wisconsin I worked at West Star Farm – now known as West Farm Organics. I managed the greenhouses, fields and employees while living at the farm. I didn’t know a lot of people so I immersed myself in farming and learned so much. I was a vegetarian at the time. Now I produce pork. My health drove me to produce meat. I’ve always known meat was part of the human diet; I just didn’t want to subscribe to the conventional meat-production model. So I started to raise my own hogs. It didn’t take long before I had what I call "farming fever." Farming involves a lot of pulling and tugging to learn and improve. I look forward to each situation that arises and apply what I’ve learned to the next season.
What do you produce on your farm and why?
Prusia: Pastured heritage pork. I started eating meat produced by a local farm and realized it’s possible to raise healthy meat with an environmentalist’s mind and heart.
In addition to farming I offer farm-stays so guests can connect with the outdoors as well as to their food. I recently started making leather jewelry from pig leather. It’s another way to fully use and respect the whole animal.
How have you learned what you need to know to farm?
Prusia: I met and learned a lot from organic growers when I worked at West Star Farm. The Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition – now FairShare Community Support Agriculture Coalition – and Homegrown Wisconsin hosted gatherings where farmers exchanged resources and experiences. That was before the internet became so accessible.
Now I learn a lot from a few pasture-raised-pig Facebook groups. The monthly Soil Sister potlucks create a perfect atmosphere to share and network. I also learn through trial and error.
I consider winter months to be conference months. That’s where we shift outside muscle work to inside work where our brains and hearts step up. I don’t go to all of the conferences I'd like to attend, but the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service’s Organic Farming Conference is always a great resource. And I love to dive into farm policy at the annual Wisconsin Farmers Union convention.
I enjoy "farm talk" and find myself asking questions of neighbors, family and friends as opportunities arise. I like to learn about what others are doing. I think we’d all be better served if we just asked more questions and if there were safe places to gather to do so. We all have a connection to farming. If you go back a generation or two, there was a farmer in your history. And of course we all need to eat. I like to believe we all have a bit of farming DNA in us; it’s just a matter of taking time to "play" with our food.
To be continued ...
Soil Sisters will host “A Celebration of Wisconsin Farms and Rural Life” Aug. 7-9 at various member farms. The weekend of farm tours and food is open to the public to “tour, taste, learn and play in the multi-faceted on-farm weekend involving more than 20 women-owned farms.” Visit soilsisterswi.org for more information.
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Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.