By Lisa Kivirist
Photo: John D. Ivanko Photography
“Please come and bring a dish to pass.”
We women in agriculture share those words of welcoming hospitality frequently, especially during the social summer months. We know first-hand the power of the potluck and that much more takes place beyond what’s on the plate. People connect, stories are shared and communities strengthen, all thanks to a layered casserole dish in a 9x13 pan if you live here in the Midwest.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has put the kibosh on this summer’s typical potluck scene. While we’re all hopeful to see the potluck return in the future, for the time being we need to reinvent. Good news: creative reinvention is something we women thrive in. We have a knack for seeing new solutions and options, from ways to attract pollinators to how to occupy the kids when you have a farm job to do.
Now is the moment to embrace the pivot and draw inspiration from our community of women for tangible ideas and inspiration for new ways to keep the collaborative spirit of the potluck, just creating it in new ways. Seize the spring and all her vernal energy to stretch yourself to try something new, act on a passion and together build community and renew our countryside.
Here are some ideas from the field:
1. Bake and Share
Continue to channel the core theme of a potluck of sharing what you have in abundance, even if right now we need to skip the eating together part. For me, this works well as one thing I needed to pivot on this summer season is that the bed and breakfast farm stay we’ve run for over twenty years here in Wisconsin, Inn Serendipity, has pretty much dried up for the season due to COVID.
That said, I still wake up every morning with my usual readiness to bake and so I do and instead simply share the excess. Whenever someone in our family needs to go to town, they drop off surprise “care packages” with friends and elderly shut-ins. Call it a contactless delivery potluck, but it keeps me connected when I get emails and calls back from appreciative folks.
Below is a new recipe I’ve been baking in abundance this spring season: Savory Nettle & Cheese Scones. While most of my baked goods usually are on the sweeter side, this is the season I decided to embrace the savory as well as tap into abundant nettles.
2. Envision Your Leadership
Photo: Institute for Justice
With some extra time for deeper solo thinking this summer, ponder what role you want to step up to in your community post-pandemic. What leadership position in your community might be a fit for you?
One to consider is township clerk, typically a local-level position that is usually in charge of record-keeping, including organizing voting and elections, an incredibly important position in protecting our democracy. These positions are either elected or appointed and may have a small stipend.
“Serving in this role takes a lot of time and commitment as I needed to basically learn how county government works,” shares Dela Ends of Scotch Hill Farm, who ran for and won the position of clerk in her township of Spring Valley in Rock County in southern Wisconsin. “For me, it’s a specific means that I can serve my community directly and champion civics education and bring an organic female farmer voice to the decision-making table that had not been there before.”
3. Write and Rouse
Take those thoughts that keep you up late at night and write them down to inspire others. Writing an op ed or a letter to the editor for a local or regional newspaper is a fantastic portal to amplify your voice and something that can readily be done from home whenever your schedule permits. Newspapers will often have specifics on their website on requirements such as word count for such pieces and to whom you should submit articles. The OpEd Project focuses on resources to help support women in writing op eds.
“The voices of women in agriculture and rural areas continue to be underrepresented in the media, particularly the newspaper opinion page which is particularly alarming as our elected officials regularly read those pieces as input in how to act on policy,” explains Kara O’Connor, Government Relations Director for the Wisconsin Farmers Union, who regularly writes up eds on agricultural issues—taking complicated global issues like dairy and trade and making then accessible for readers. “Writing your first op ed may feel overwhelming, but once you see your name in print and feel the impact of what you’ve written, motivation kicks in and thing get easier with practice.”
Or perhaps your local paper needs content that you could create. My local group of Soil Sisters, area women in my farm-hood who get together regularly for potlucks and idea sharing, were approached by our local small-town Wisconsin newspaper to write a regular “Soil Sisters” monthly column sharing the women in agriculture perspective and our ideas on building community resilience along with a recipe, of course. The first column just ran in The Monroe Times (pictured, left) and we have a team of area women to each write one column to cover the whole next year.
Stay tuned for more on Soil Sisters as we’re excited to now be an official project of Renewing the Countryside and look forward to supporting more local women farmer networking building later this year.
4. Celebrate at Home
Before COVID-19, I joked that we had two modes on our farm because of the B&B: “Guest mode” and “no guest mode.” Guest mode was when things were tidy and the tables were consciously set with my collection of tablecloths, flowers and the eclectic but colorful collection of Goodwill dishes amassed over the years. No guest mode—you guessed it—is when things fall into not so tidy state.
With no B&B traffic this summer, for a few weeks I slumped into “no-guest mode” all the time and then realized that I missed it, and that feeling good about my surroundings added up to a much more positive home farm vibe. Evening supper tables now have flowers, candles and whatever else I want to creatively add. The result? Our family meals turn into relaxed gatherings, celebrating the food, each other and the beauty of the land and gratitude for all those nettles, among other things.
Savory Nettle & Cheese Scones
Be sure to use gloves when harvesting the nettle. Pouring boiling water over nettles magically takes away the stinging property.
Photo: John D. Ivanko Photography
Approximately 50 to 60 nettle leaves
1 ¼ cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup butter (half a stick)
2 tbsp chopped chives
1 cup grated cheese, cheddar or any melting cheese
2 tbsp sour cream
½ cup milk
Wash nettle leaves and put in ceramic bowl. Pour over with boiling water and let cool. Squeeze out water and chop finely.
In a large bowl, use a fork to mix flour, baking powder and salt.
Cut in butter using a pastry cutter or fork.
Add chopped nettle, chives and cheese.
Gently mix in sour cream and milk until mixtures sticks together into a soft dough. Don’t over mix but be sure the dough isn’t too sticky. Add more milk as needed.
Flip dough out onto a floured surface and pat into a circle eight inches wide. Cut into six even slices and place on prepared baking tray.
Brush with milk and bake at 425 degrees F for about 15 minutes or until golden.
Super tasty with goat cheese!