Editor's note: This article is part of a series featuring members of the Soil Sisters, an official program of Renewing the Countryside. The community of women farmers advocate for family farming and locally produced food.

BRODHEAD, Wis. – Betty Anderson produces livestock, poultry and much more on her small diversified farm near Brodhead. 

When and why did you join Soil Sisters?

Anderson: Shortly after landing here my husband, Dane Anderson, and I attended the funeral of his cousin, Mike Reavis. There I met Joylene Reavis, one of the original Soil Sisters and an emu farmer. We became friends and she introduced me to Lisa Kivirist of Soil Sisters. The rest is history.

When and why did you begin farming?

Anderson: I married my husband just as he was inheriting a portion of his third-generation family farm. We bought the rest of the farm from his sister.

What do you produce on your farm and why?

Anderson: Diversified livestock – cattle, goats and poultry, as well as fruits and vegetables for my value-added business. I watched my parents "put up" produce we grew in our yard; it left an impression on me. My mom is thrifty and I emulate that in my life. My dad passed away but he was a Navy veteran like me. He made jellies and wine. I think of him often as I make gourmet jams, jellies and pickles that I sell at the Veteran's Administration farmers market in Madison. 

My husband and I began growing organic hemp in 2019 for cannabidiol. We're learning about it as members of the South Central Wisconsin Hemp Cooperative.

Goats are easy on the land, fun and delicious. I've eaten a lot of goat meat during my overseas travels and loved it.

Who helps with the farming operation?

Anderson: My husband and I manage the farm. He generally handles the cattle while I manage the poultry. The goats largely take care of themselves. In some ways they’re around for our mental health. They’re so much fun and are so naughty.

We have a dear friend, Susan Hefner, who moved here to help me care for my aunt. My aunt passed away and thankfully Susan stayed in the area. She’s really like a member of our family. She does any number of things such as farm-sitting and dog training as needed. It would be hard to imagine life without her.

How have you learned what you need to know to farm?

Anderson: My Soil Sisters are a steady and reliable resource. And they’re my friends. My husband's uncle, Mark Anderson, lives next door and has farmed the land around us for many years. It’s very comforting to have him and his wife, Maureen Anderson, nearby.

Whom do you admire as setting a good farming or lifestyle example and why?

Anderson: There are so many of my soil sisters who inspire me in so many ways.

  • Lisa Kivirist for her easy-on-the-environment lifestyle and the way she brings us together
  • Kriss Marion for lighting a fire under us
  • Dela Ends for joining me in small-town government and helping me navigate my organic certification -- She has been a faithful example in the organic-farming community for so many years, a pioneer really.
  • Bethany Emond Storm for her mad organizational and boundary-setting skills and her values-driven lifestyle.
  • April Prusia for finding the sweet spot – the wonderful intersection between farming and conservation, and showing us all they aren’t mutually exclusive
  • FL Morris for having – and pursuing – a dream, no holds barred
  • Danielle Dockery for relocating here from the city and jumping in with both feet -- She has supported so many of us in our farm businesses. She left a lucrative job in the city to help a local farmer-supporting business thrive – Cow & Quince in New Glarus, Wisconsin. She now has started her own business, Driftless Traditional Tannery, with a couple of “farmher” friends – Bethany Emond Storm and Brandi Bonde. They’ll be tanning our hides, literally.

So many friends are putting their money where their mouths are. Inspiration is all around me.

What are your biggest challenges as a female farmer?

Anderson: Although farming is generally seen as a male-dominated industry I don't let it bother me. I've worked in a male-dominated industry -- military service -- my entire adult life. I’m not intimidated by that. But it is frustrating that most tools and equipment are geared toward larger and stronger people. I generally need to adapt most tools to work within my limitations. There’s always a workaround or an adaptation if you put your mind to it.

What do you see for your farm and farming in general 20 years from now?

Anderson: I’m hoping to leave our land a bit better than we found it. We are stewards, caretakers really. The land was here long before us and will be here long after we’re gone. If I’m blessed to be working this land 20 years from now it will be an honor. I'll be nearly 80 years old.

Ideally I'd like to see some sort of transition where some younger farmers with a passion for the land follow in our footsteps and take it to the next level. I'm loving the trend of young folks returning to farming and looking at it with fresh eyes, respect for the land and out-of-the-box thinking.

What would you like the general public to know about farming?

Anderson: It's very hard and rewarding work. Get to know your farmer. Find out where your food comes from and put your food dollars there, where they go back to your community. Support your local farmers in whatever ways you can.

What advice would you have for other women interested in becoming farmers?

Anderson: Do it. The land and our culture need you.

What is your involvement with Soil Sisters 2020?

Anderson: I’ll be hosting an "In Her Boots" workshop Aug. 7. The main focus for me this year is balance and not painting an unrealistic picture of farming. I'll emphasize advance planning and self care.

I’ll also be teaching several canning workshops. Two are focused on water-bath canning. Another workshop will focus on pressure-canning. So many people are afraid of that; I'd like to bust some myths and give folks the confidence to just do it.

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 soilsisters.wixsite.com/soilsisters and renewingthecountryside.org for more information.

Agri-View is looking for a sponsor for our Women in Agribusiness page - page A3 in each weekly edition. Contact agriview@madison.com for more information.