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.
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.
BROOKLYN, Wis. – Bethanee Wright owns and operates Winterfell Acres LLC, a community-supported-agriculture farm. She grows a variety of vegetables, fruits, flowers and herbs.
When and why did you begin farming?
Wright: I began farming in 2010 when I was a sophomore in college. I served an internship on a 2-acre farmette near La Crosse, Wisconsin; it was a retirement home for Franciscan Sisters. I decided to continue working there with Lucy Slinger, an ecological advocate and sustainability-degrees-program coordinator at Viterbo University. She’s a Franciscan sister who had earned a degree in plant pathology. I learned so much – mostly how to weed effectively, but also how to care for young fruit trees, dig carrots, braid garlic, discard blighted tomato plants and conduct various soil-testing techniques. I was simply in love with it all. I had on-the-job training with my hands in the dirt.
How have you learned what you need to know to farm?
Wright: I worked for other farms and in 2013 took a management position on a community-supported-agriculture farm near Madison, Wisconsin. I wanted to become a full-time farmer so I leased land and moved to near Brooklyn in 2015.
What do you produce on your farm?
Wright: I grow certified-organic mixed vegetables, fruit, flowers and herbs for community-supported-agriculture subscribers and area restaurants.
Does your family help with the farm?
Wright: My husband helps a bit. My daughter is too young to help much now. The farm is mostly my passion and my work. My husband and my mom help a lot by caring for my daughter while I work, work, work.
Whom do you admire as setting a good farming or lifestyle example?
Wright: To be honest there aren't a lot of good examples of farmers who are making a good living and having a well-balanced personal life. That has always been my goal but some years are more difficult than others. The key for our family has been to learn to live on less, have more personal time and enjoy our life on the farm.
When and why did you join Soil Sisters?
Wright: The first year I was a part of Soil Sisters was 2016 – a year after I moved to Green County, Wisconsin. But I'd been a part of our yearly weekend gatherings, potluck gatherings and the listserv since 2014. Every early August when the Soil Sisters tour comes around I’m knee-deep in harvest. I’m harvesting hundreds of pounds of tomatoes every week; I’m usually dragging by that time of season. But having a group of women and visitors who are inspired by my work is a huge boost for my morale and energy level. And I love sharing what I’ve learned with others who are interested.
What are your biggest challenges as a female farmer?
Wright: Upper-body strength -- I've needed to work really hard to keep my upper body in condition. I could walk, squat and weed on my knees all day. But on potato-harvest days, for example, I’m always grateful for my winter workouts.
What do you see for your farm and farming in general 20 years from now?
Wright: I see us continuing the good work of working the Earth in a gentle meaningful way and feeding people delicious food … even more so in the next 20 years.
What would you like the general public to know about farming?
Wright: It's kind of like raising children ... it's the hardest, most challenging, most rewarding and fulfilling thing you could ever do.
What advice would you have for other women interested in becoming farmers?
Wright: Work on a farm of the right size and scale in markets in which you’re interested. This will help you learn if farming is the right fit for you. And don't be afraid to ask farm owners tough questions.
What’s your involvement with Soil Sisters 2020? What workshops will you be hosting?
Wright: I’m planning workshops on beginning holistic orcharding, and how to give gratitude offerings to land and home.
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.
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