Soil Sisters Farm Tours

soil-sistersA few months ago there came about a rare event in the field of agricultural education: touring several farms in the same region in one day. That wasn’t an event I was about to pass up! How often do you get to tour seven different farms virtually at the same time?

Soil Sisters farm tours is an endeavor put on by MOSES Organic and the Rural Women’s Project. All the farms on the tour were either solely run by women, or in partnership with a significant-other. The tour was open to everyone, but the focus was more on offering an example of operating farms run by women. (If you haven’t guessed, women in agriculture are kind of a rare thing, unfortunately.)

Attending workshops and conferences has been indispensable in educating myself for my future farm endeavors. But, field days offer such a wealth of information it’s impossible to encompass in any one write up. Being right there on these farms, listening to the farmers, and witnessing first hand their place of employment is… priceless.

So, this past August 10th I drove around the countryside of south-central Wisconsin in pursuit of the various farms on the tour. It was something akin to a parade of homes, where all the locations on the tour are open only for certain hours. And you can come and go from one or all of them during the course of those operating hours.

I ended up not stopping at all seven farms as I was starting to run out of time. These are the five I made it to that day. Even though the information I gained that day was tremendous I decided to focus on the pictures I took of the farms while I was there.

Kinkoona Farm, Brodhead, WI

The first 'greeter' at Kinkoona farm! A very friendly, and large, pot bellied pig (can't remember her name). Just like a dog she loved to be scratched!
The first ‘greeter’ at Kinkoona farm! A very friendly, and large, pot bellied pig (can’t remember her name). Just like a dog she loved to be scratched!

The first stop was at Kinkoona Farm. Run by Suellen Thomson-Link, along with her 3 kids, raises sheep and grass-fed lamb in a permaculture setting. The wool they produce is processed right on the farm and sold as chemical-free batting in bedding material. They also do sunflower sprouts for restaurants in their hoophouse greenhouse, and have a small aquaponics system attached to the main barn.

The first 'greeter' at Kinkoona farm! A very friendly, and large, pot bellied pig (can't remember her name). Just like a dog she loved to be scratched!
The first ‘greeter’ at Kinkoona farm! A very friendly, and large, pot bellied pig (can’t remember her name). Just like a dog she loved to be scratched!
Part of their aquaponics system. The white pipe slowly squirted water into the gravel bed, traveled slowly down a slight slope, and irrigated the potted plants. The effluent then went into a fish tank before being pumped back up to the top to start over.
Part of their aquaponics system. The white pipe slowly squirted water into the gravel bed, traveled slowly down a slight slope, and irrigated the potted plants. The effluent then went into a fish tank before being pumped back up to the top to start over.
They used a fair amount of salvaged lumber, like shipping pallets, to build their aquaponics system. Suellen is on the right.
They used a fair amount of salvaged lumber, like shipping pallets, to build their aquaponics system. Suellen is on the right.
The steep slope next to the barn (out of the picture to the left) was prone to erosion with the previous owners. So they seeded down the slope and brought in more perennials over time to stabilize it. The slope ends in a satellite-dish-turned-frog-pond at the bottom.
The steep slope next to the barn (out of the picture to the left) was prone to erosion with the previous owners. So they seeded down the slope and brought in more perennials over time to stabilize it. The slope ends in a satellite-dish-turned-frog-pond at the bottom.

Scotch Hill Farm, Brodhead, WI

Scotch Hill Farm is run by Dela and Tony Ends. Dela sounds like she’s very active in local agriculture, including being on the board of Fair Share CSA Coalition. Dela and her husband run a certified organic vegetable CSA (community supported agriculture; receiving a box of vegetables every week), and make a significant amount of handmade soap.

 One of their very large high tunnel greenhouse structures.
One of their very large high tunnel greenhouse structures.

scotch-hill-farm-1

A view from the inside.
A view from the inside.
 I thought this was clever. For whatever reason flies like to sit on string. This sticky string captures them and can be rolled up as it gets filled. Very effective!
I thought this was clever. For whatever reason flies like to sit on string. This sticky string captures them and can be rolled up as it gets filled. Very effective!
They run a small herd of goats on the farm, the milk from which they use to make soap. Their goat milk soap business is a significant part of the farm revenue (but not part of the CSA share).
They run a small herd of goats on the farm, the milk from which they use to make soap. Their goat milk soap business is a significant part of the farm revenue (but not part of the CSA share).

Inn Serendipity, Browntown, WI

Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko are owners and operators of Inn Serendipity, a farmstead and bed & breakfast that is entirely powered by the wind and sun. The list of eco-agri-rural-sustainable-organic-foody endeavors that Lisa is a part of is staggering! She has been a significant figure in forwarding everything from rural renewal and local food systems to independent entrepreneurship and women in agriculture. Having their farmstead on this tour was a significant reason for me to trip it down to southern Wisconsin.

Thank you, Lisa, for all you do! (I’m kicking myself for not getting Lisa and her husband in any of my pictures.)

One of the photovoltaic arrays. Beautiful flowers were everywhere. Note solar oven at right.
One of the photovoltaic arrays. Beautiful flowers were everywhere. Note solar oven at right.
Their vintage electric car was adorable! The wind generator in the distance is about 15 years old now, continuing to power not only their farm, but selling electricity back to the grid.
Their vintage electric car was adorable! The wind generator in the distance is about 15 years old now, continuing to power not only their farm, but selling electricity back to the grid.
This is their solar thermal hot water system. If I remember correctly John said this provides all their hot water needs, including their B&B guests. It's a short feed to the house (off to the right).
This is their solar thermal hot water system. If I remember correctly John said this provides all their hot water needs, including their B&B guests. It’s a short feed to the house (off to the right).

Sandhill Family Farms, Brodhead, WI

Sandhill Family Farms is not one, but two farms (their other location is in Grayslake, IL and not on this tour). Peg and Matt Schaefer have aptly named their farm as the local soil is very sandy. That makes it well adapted to growing such things as tomatoes, peppers, onions, squash, melon, potatoes, eggplant, and zucchini. Between their Wisconsin and Illinois farms they produce over 350 CSA vegetable shares, along with dairy, egg, and meat shares.

They have a very clean, well-organized, and professional operation — I was highly impressed. They even had an innovative approach to cooling their fresh veggies: a heavily insulated room in their shed with a couple window air conditioners out the back (it was difficult to get a picture of so I didn’t even try). This looks like a great way to cut costs on constructing a commercial type walk-in cooler.

Some of the other highlights at their farm:

Lots of onions drying in their greenhouse. Massive fans were going to circulate the very warm air inside.
Lots of onions drying in their greenhouse. Massive fans were going to circulate the very warm air inside.
An older tractor used for cultivating rows of vegetables.
An older tractor used for cultivating rows of vegetables.
Melons, melons, and more melons. Their fields of veggies were so large it was hard to get a comprehensive picture.
Melons, melons, and more melons. Their fields of veggies were so large it was hard to get a comprehensive picture.
A sheep creep! The narrow slats were just wide enough for the young sheep to get through, but not the donkey. Sorry, donkey, alfalfa is for kids (or lambs, in this case).
A sheep creep! The narrow slats were just wide enough for the young sheep to get through, but not the donkey. Sorry, donkey, alfalfa is for kids (or lambs, in this case).
Very simple, but effective hand washing station. A critical part of food safety on the farm.
Very simple, but effective hand washing station. A critical part of food safety on the farm.
How do you turn a hay wagon into a vegetable stand? Add some framing and a tarp over the top.
How do you turn a hay wagon into a vegetable stand? Add some framing and a tarp over the top.

Lucky Dog Farmstay, New Glarus, WI

Even though Lori Stearn & Leanne Powers run a farmstay in their 150-year-old farmhouse at Lucky Dog Farm, they have a few goats & chickens and many pigs they raise for market. The area they raise the pigs in (a forested area out back) is rotated every year so as not to put a lot of grazing/rooting pressure on one area for too long. The moveable shelter they built for the pigs looks very durable and serviceable.

A few of the goats at Lucky Dog Farmstay.
A few of the goats at Lucky Dog Farmstay.
The hogs are fenced into a forested area with electric fencing and hog panels. These hogs are about half way to market size. The shelter with the low roof is built on skids so it can be dragged to a new pasture area each year.
The hogs are fenced into a forested area with electric fencing and hog panels. These hogs are about half way to market size. The shelter with the low roof is built on skids so it can be dragged to a new pasture area each year.
When the owner brought out a little grain to feed the pigs they were all over each other to get at it. It was entertaining!
When the owner brought out a little grain to feed the pigs they were all over each other to get at it. It was entertaining!

Heading for Home

It turned out to be surprisingly tiring driving all over the countryside from farm to farm. By the end of the day I was looking forward to the drive home. I knew that doing a write up on this day would take some time, so I kept putting it off. This turned out to not be such a bad thing as this has given me a chance to relive that day through my memory. I’m glad I went, and I’m very glad the Soil Sisters organized this great day…. and for ordering such fabulous weather!

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