Five Tips for Beginning Women Farmers
Soil Sisters: Sara Freid, Lake City Catholic Worker Farm (Lake City, MN)
By Lisa Kivirist, author of Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers
Just about all farm women plant seeds and harvest crops, as does Sara Freid on her diversified operation in Lake City, Minnesota. However, dig a little deeper into Sara’s story and you quickly see she’s growing more than dinner on her land, she’s cultivating change.
“As a Catholic Worker Farm, our operation carries on the lay movement started by Dorothy Day during the Depression in the 1930s, a woman who grew disappointed in the church’s non- presence working to address issues of the day such as hunger and homelessness,” explains Sara. “Her core teaching is to identify needs in your community and then, importantly, act on what you can do to help resolve it.”
For Sara and her family, starting the Lake City Catholic Worker Farm in 2007 serves as their vivid and tangible action to both bringing healthy, fresh food to their community while providing a venue to tackle the broader issue of serving people in need. Today they raise diversified produce, pigs, chickens and eggs and sell at the Lake City farmers’ market, local schools, group homes, donate to area food pantries and other Catholic Worker homes and offer a fall CSA (community supported agriculture) share.
“Each Catholic Worker community is an independent entity that each strive in their own way to serve those in need, ranging from homes offering food and shelter to working farms like ours,” shares Sara. Her farm welcomes and hosts people in need of support, from lodging to meals. “Folks who come are our guests and we strive to make them feel welcomed, safe and loved. While guests can help in the gardens, it’s not a requirement to stay.”
For women interested in creating a farm venture in this same spirit of blending a successful farm enterprise with their social justice mission, read on for five tips from Sara:
1. Remember everyone was a beginner
“Remember nobody knows everything and all farmers at some point planted their first crop and made mistakes along the way,” Sara reminds us with a smile. “Therefore, feel confident to ask questions and seek out others to learn from. As women, we tend to doubt ourselves and need to boost up our confidence and not feel intimidated in a room full of men.”
On that note, Sara recommends seeking out other women in your community and developing a local network of kindred female farming spirits. “When you know each other as trusted friends, it’s much easier to ask questions.”
2. Listen to your spirit
“Listening to your spirit drives a lot of what we’ve done to bring our goal of living on the land and creating community to life,” Sara explains. “Embrace change as part of the process. When something doesn’t match up with your values, consider whether or not you should be doing it at all.”
Such was the case with the chicken broilers. While Sara was making decent money, the time involved with raising and processing the chickens took way too many hours, time she would rather spend with her family and kids. Eliminating broilers and instead focusing on the pigs both opened up time and proved to be something Sara enjoyed much more.
3. Integrate Family
Including Sara’s three young daughters remains a core driving value of her farm venture. She finds that intentionally including them with farm chores helps her kids feel that they are a contributing part of the process.
“The key for me is to connect them with tasks that are both meaningful and that they can realistically accomplish at their age,” advises Sara. “My five-year- old can scoop fertilizer in when we plant our transplants while the eleven-year-old now takes on more responsibility by driving the truck. I’ve realized tasks take longer this way and to be OK with that.”
“Sometimes all it takes to keep everyone happy is taking a fifteen-minute break to play a game or have a snack with my kids,” Sara shares. “During the busy summer season I used to keep telling them I’d play that game later, but I’ve realized by taking that break and doing it now we all leave satisfied and recharged.”
4. Create a “House of Hospitality”
A core tenant of the Catholic Worker movement is to create a “house of hospitality,” a place where anyone in need can find a welcoming meal, bed, support or whatever they may need. In addition to guests that stay on the farm, Sara welcomes school groups and tours throughout the year and treats the volunteers who come and help on the farm very appreciatively, usually with ice cream treats at the end of a hot summer day of field work and weeding.
“By keeping our farm doors open and inviting folks in and sharing what we do, we both serve those in need while educating about how our food is grown and connecting folks to their food source.”
5. Live Your Values
“I want our food system to be more just, one in which organic food isn’t so expensive and it’s easier for everyone to afford healthy, nutrient rich food; a system in which workers are paid fairly and work in a safe environment” sums up Sara. “This is what drives me every day to keep planting, weeding and moving forward.”
Blend your mission and values with your day-to- day operations and you’re doing more than cropping cabbage. Like Sara, you are cultivating change.