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.
NEW GLARUS, Wis. – Brandi Bonde raises layers and goats for meat at Harmony Farm near New Glarus. She also is starting a small-scale tannery with Bethany Emond Storm and Danielle Dockery, both Soil Sisters. They will offer naturally tanned sheep and goat hides.
When and why did you join Soil Sisters?
Bonde: I joined a couple of years ago to engage more with my local community. A hermit by nature, community involvement doesn’t come easily to me. But I knew it was necessary to speak and educate people about what I do and why I think it's important. The Soil Sisters has been not only a bridge but a glorious support system for me to speak about responsible agriculture.
When and why did you begin farming?
Bonde: I started small with just a few chickens and two milk goats about 10 years ago. I wanted a closer relationship with my food, and to know animals were fed well and naturally -- and that they had room to enjoy their lives. I wanted them, the land and the waters I raised them on in harmony.
What do you produce on your farm and why?
Bonde: After offering extra eggs at work, demand grew. I purchased more laying hens to meet demand. After offering goat's-milk soap and cheese to friends, people started asking about goat meat. So I expanded my little farm to raise more goats for food. I'm proud to offer grass-fed and grass-finished goat meat. I think more consumers are waking to the notion of having a healthier relationship with their food, how it's raised and treated, and the people raising it. I'm delighted to educate people on my practices and why I think regenerative agriculture is necessary.
Does your family help with the farm?
Bonde: I am a “solo-preneur.” My husband will help with something if I simply can’t do something on my own. But those occasions are rare. His philosophy is that I can have as many animals as I want, but they’re my responsibility. That knowledge has meant that my growth is slow, but honest and smart. I must be honest with myself about how much I can handle physically, emotionally and financially while maintaining the integrity of how and why I farm.
How have you learned what you need to know to farm?
Bonde: I have read voraciously and cultivated community with other area farmers. A lot of my farming has been by trial and error, especially as it relates to goat fencing. The bulk of what I've learned has been paying attention to what my animals and land are telling me. Being present with them, watching them and learning normal behavior helps me be a better steward.
Whom do you admire as setting a good farming or lifestyle example and why?
Bonde: The Riemer Family Farm of Brodhead, Wisconsin, does an amazing job in land and water stewardship. Jen Reimer is a warrior when it comes to protecting water. The same goes for April Prussia of Dorothy's Range near Blanchardville, Wisconsin. She and her partner, Steve Fabos, were recently recognized for their work protecting local trout streams. Betty Anderson of The Old Smith Place near Brodhead, and Bethany Emond Storm of The Little Red Home(stead) near Blanchardville are beautiful examples of women raising food animals with love.
How does Soil Sisters most help you?
Bonde: It offers community like I’ve never seen. The women are powerful stewards of land, water, animals and their communities. The Soil Sisters operate on the idea that if you raise the water, all boats float. The women I know are always willing to describe their experiences, what has worked for them, what hasn't, why they do what they do and where to best look for help.
What are your biggest challenges as a female farmer?
Bonde: Agriculture is still a man's world and sometimes it shows. I think it’s becoming better, but women can still have a more difficult time with access to loans, land, and even acknowledgement of their work and contributions.
What do you see for your farm and farming in general 20 years from now?
Bonde: I may be at capacity for my current property because I want to keep our land healthy. So I’m looking to purchase quality land to grow my operation. I'd love to diversify into perennial fruits as well.
What would you like the general public to know about farming?
Bonde: That we want the public to ask questions. We love what we do and want to share. We are passionate about quality, healthy food and sharing it with our communities. We don't farm with organic, regenerative and sustainable practices because it's easy; it’s not. We farm because we feel it's vital to our physical health and the health of our soil, land, water and ultimately our planet.
What advice would you have for other women interested in becoming farmers?
Bonde: Community. Find your people and love them. The demographic of female farmers is growing quickly, but we’re still a minority. If you can, talk with other female farmers in your area. Share information and resources.
Soil Sisters plans to host “A Celebration of Wisconsin Farms and Rural Life” Aug. 7-9 at various member farms. Harmony Farm will be part of the event's bus tour of farms. Bonde also will host a program Aug. 9 focused on working with the lessons and gifts of nature to heal the environment, the community and oneself. The weekend of farm tours and food is open to the public. Visit soilsisters.wixsite.com/soilsisters and renewingthecountryside.org for more information.
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