By Lisa Kivirist
When you think of the word “hospitality,” what image comes to mind? Maybe a vision of mom’s china set that only came out for special occasions? It’s easy to fall into the expected, often obligatory aspects of hospitality like dinner parties and required house cleaning.
But today, let’s cook up a broader definition of hospitality to create a spirit of welcome that enables us to authentically invite and include a greater number and diversity of people at the table. Whether we’re shaking up the system from our literal kitchen table or a broader virtual convening, we—as women committed to sustainable agriculture and land stewardship—can actively invite more voices in. Especially as we navigate a new COVID-19 world with evolving norms of social gatherings, how can we keep warm hospitality at the forefront?
“Hospitality is how someone makes you feel, accommodation is where you lay your head,” shares Ash Bruxvoort, who runs Thistle’s Summit, a bed and breakfast in Mount Vernon, Iowa, with their partner, Marti Payseur. As members of the LBGTQ community, Ash and Marti blend their activist mission with lodging by thoughtfully and authentically curating such a welcoming space for all.
Below are some perspectives on generating such hospitality from Bruxvoort and other women who have created such unique and enduring spaces of welcome:
1. Create a land connection
“When you come through the gate here, I'm always saying ‘welcome home’ to everyone,” shares Venice Williams, Executive Director of Alice’s Garden and Urban Farm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (pictured at right). William’s vision of hospitality and to “welcome back home” means to celebrate, honor and to be in union with the land.
“We help folks understand that no matter where you are, even in this urban context that has so many negative connotations, that here is a place of peace and growth. Here is a place where you can explore so many different parts of you.”
2. Prepare and ask
Asking questions ahead of time to make sure someone will feel comfortable and appreciated in whatever setting you are inviting them in to goes a long way.
“We strive to offer hospitality even before people come to Thistle's Summit by asking them what pronouns they use, if they have any dietary restrictions, what they seek to do in their time so that we can best support them for a wonderful experience,” adds Bruxvoort.
“I like to greet guests right when they drive up and take them for a quick walk around the farm to get them familiar with the space,” offers Gabriele Marewski, who until 2017 ran Paradise Farms in Homestead, Florida, a farm stay and diversified growing operation.
“It gives them a chance to stretch after driving and gives us a chance to chat as we go. Then they are free to pick up their bags, settle in and wander the now familiar grounds.”
4. Foster safety
This idea of asking questions to help people in feeling welcomed roots in cultivating safety, a knowing that one will be supported and appreciated to be their authentic self.
“Months before Marti and I opened Thistle's Summit, I tagged along on a work trip to Chicago,” Bruxvoort recalls. “Yes, Chicago, Illinois, where no one would ever think that you would run into an issue for being gay. While checking into our hotel room at a boutique hotel, we were asked three times if we were sure that we wanted a Queen size bed and not two doubles. Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens to femme presenting couples all of the time, so we weren't too thrown off by the experience, but it made it so clear to us that this idea we had of opening a queer bed and breakfast was a worthy one.”
Bruxvoort adds that people shouldn't have to wonder if it's okay for them to be themselves in the place where they are sleeping, eating, and bathing. It's actually a really intimate thing, trusting someone else to keep you safe in your home away from home. “It's a responsibility that we never take lightly and we are very open with our guests about where they will likely be welcomed and where they might not be. We've had more than one conversation with visibly queer and trans guests about where it's safe for them to stop and use a restroom on their return trip home, or where to grab a coffee. We understand the concerns of our guests so there is no need for embarrassment.”
5. Keep it simple – with soup!
Opening your doors more regularly and often into your everyday life goes a long way in crafting welcome.
Brenda Carus champions this with regular soup nights, where she cooks up a tasty selection of big pots of soup and gets the word out locally via a Facebook event invite to stop by her family’s home in southern Wisconsin. A twist on a potluck, folks are welcome and often do bring side dishes to share but by taking the initiative with the pots of soup there’s no pressure for guests to do anything but just stop by and sample.
“This isn’t radical,” Carus explains. “What we’re doing is traditional, going back to my roots, having grown up on a farm. It’s what my grandmother did, and her grandmother before her of having informal visiting hours when friends know they can easily stop by."
Practice your soup recipes so you’ll be ready to host your own soup nights when social gathering starts up again. Here’s my son’s Cream of Tomato Soup recipe that is super simple as you make it all in the blender—no peeling or deseeding needed. Take advantage of the fresh bounty of summer and make the soup base up until adding the cream and salt and pepper and freeze. Defrost in the winter and then add the heavy cream.
Cream of Tomato Soup
By Liam Kivirist
The butter and cream can easily be substituted with cooking oil and vegetable stock to make the dish vegan. Can easily double or more.