Editor's note: This article is part of a series of articles 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.
MONTICELLO, Wis. – LindaDee Derrickson talks about her early beginnings creating community around food and farming.
When and why did you join Soil Sisters?
Derrickson: I joined Soil Sisters in 2014 when I sold my Blanchardville farm and moved to the nucleus of (the Soil Sisters) territory in Green County, Wisconsin. I already knew and respected many of the women who are members.
When and why did you begin farming?
Derrickson: I was born into farming with my parents and two brothers. We farmed 200 acres in northern Grant County – land where fields in our little valley seemed to interrupt the steep hillsides. Our family farm was organic because there wasn’t anything else then. When I saw a car coming up the valley toward our farm – often in a cloud of dust – it was either coming to visit or was lost because our farm was at the end of a long dead-end road. Driving home after dark on slippery winter roads meant my dad needed to “gun it” up some of the hills. If we didn’t make it he was forced to walk a mile or more to get our tractor with chains to pull us up the hill or out of whatever snow bank we had slid into.
By the time I was 3 years old I was planting seeds, gathering eggs and petting newborn piglets warming by the kitchen stove when it was bitter cold. My dad started farming with work horses. When I was a toddler he switched to a tractor. I was about 5 years old when my parents sold our last sheep.
Soon we added 80 acres of ridge land; Dad was the first farmer in our area to implement contour strips to prevent erosion. A threshing machine was owned cooperatively in our neighborhood. It traveled from place to place along with all the farmers who stoked the machine with oat bundles. It spewed straw into a large pile and sent oats down a chute to be hauled to a bin in our hay mow.
Mom raised chickens for eggs and meat. Dad milked about 24 Guernsey cows; the milk was delivered to a creamery in Blue River, Wisconsin. It wouldn’t be long before Guernseys would become an "endangered" breed. Holsteins would dominate the milking scene despite Guernseys producing a creamier milk. We all drank raw milk and thought it tasted much better than my grandpa’s low-butterfat Holstein milk. The age of 2 percent, 1 percent and skim milk was looming.
Mom began cooking school lunches and later sewing at a lingerie factory to help with farm expenses -- including the needs of three growing kids. As teenagers we were so engrossed in sports, band and other activities there was no time for pigs and chickens so off they went. Our parents expected us to earn a college education. Our farm income wasn’t enough to pay hired hands to replace us. As we headed to college, one by one, the handwriting was on the wall. Dad cried the day his precious cows were auctioned – every one with a name, history and story. He stopped farming.
I earned a degree in home-economics education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In the 1970s I had children, tending huge gardens for them to play in and eat from. I eventually owned the Sunprint and Sunporch cafes in Madison, Wisconsin. When searching for the best produce and meats for my restaurants I realized the best way was to grow my own. Community-supported agriculture farms in the 1980s and 1990s were few and far between. Farmers markets didn’t offer many organic choices. I began to raise edible flowers for menu garnishes and salad mixes.
I then found a country place where I could also raise livestock. Thus began my transition from city living to country living, and from full-time restaurant operation to full-time farming. I had returned to my roots.
In more than seven decades I’ve grown vegetables, herbs, flowers and livestock in many locations and climates. I’ve farmed in small urban spaces to large rural acreages in the Driftless Area region. I’ve farmed with Scottish Highland cattle, milk goats, rare endangered sheep, heritage chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks. I’ve always had humongous gardens with heritage vegetables. I had a farm-stay bed and breakfast, serving guests organic homegrown breakfasts. I shared my passion for heritage sheep, cattle and chickens.
My current farm, Bluffwood Landing Wool Farm, is located on a woodsy bluff with open-prairie pastures. I have 15 acres – perfect for my age and being single.
To be continued ... In the second part of the article Derrickson will discuss challenges as a female farmer and will share advice for other women farmers.
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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