Soil Sisters: Cultivating Women Leaders

Applications are now closed for this season. Look for more information soon.

Grow both your leadership skills and connections to women involved in agriculture in your community sharing conservation values.



This new program supports the establishment of a vibrant, enduring network of rural women in southeast Minnesota committed to agriculture and conservation that will foster increased women’s leadership and representation.  

While women play an increasing role in launching and running farm operations and various conservation initiatives, women still lack representation and participation in leadership and decision-making roles, particularly in rural communities.  Research has shown that women learn and work best engaged with other women in a supportive, female-led environment.  This project champions this networking mindset by providing the framework and structure to connect such area rural women sharing these values and supporting the training and facilitation for an on-going, independent and self-led local network of women leaders advocating for conservation principles.

Program description:

This eight-month pilot program brings together a diverse group of women from the southeast quadrant of Minnesota (approximately within one hour of Rochester), representing a diversity of ages, backgrounds and perspectives under the umbrella values of agriculture and conservation, fostering leadership skill development, personal growth and a broadening of understanding of issues related to land stewardship.

The program is facilitated by Renewing the Countryside, a non-profit working to strengthen rural areas by championing and supporting rural communities, farmers, artists, entrepreneurs, educators, activists and other people who are renewing the countryside through sustainable and innovative initiatives, businesses, and projects.

Program schedule:

Jan. 29,2016:  Application Deadline

Feb.  8, 2016:  Soil Sisters inaugural class announced

Sun. Feb. 28 (3:00 PM  start) – Mon. Feb. 29 (3:00 PM close):  Opening retreat at Journey Inn (Maiden Rock, WI)

March – October:

  • Three in-person gatherings plus other opportunities for on-line training and other related events
  • Three Webinar/conference call/online learning opportunities

November 14, 2016: Closing gathering; location TBD


Participants commit to:

  1. Attend the full opening February and closing November gathering and the three in-person gatherings (dates TBD to to best suit the group).

  2. Develop and execute a personally-designed leadership development program based on the themes below in “Program Content.”  Various resources and support will be available to coach and navigate.  

Note: projects under this program can be small and personal and based on what time you have available.  The key theme for applicants is an interest and commitment to trying some new things outside your usual comfort zone.

Program cost:  $100 covering all materials, food, lodging etc.

Program content:

The content, activities and resources focus on four key areas:

1. Learn

•  Identify an issue you feel passionate about and learn as much as possible.   This can be personal (i.e., conservation practices and programs you can implement on your farm, developing a farm transition plan) or more public (i.e., getting more local food into area school lunches) with the ultimate goal to use your learnings to lead others.

2. Invite

•  Identify and connect with women of different perspectives and histories to build relationships by find common ground and/or a younger woman that you can potentially mentor and support.

3. Gather

• Create a way for more women in the community to further connect, such as hosting a potluck or discussion.

4. Amplify

•  Create something that makes a public statement about your passion issue, such as a letter to the editor; speaking at a local service group; hosting an event/film screening at the library, etc. 

More details:

This inaugural class is intended to gather a diverse, engaged and enthusiastic group of women seeking and committed to both building a network and developing their own leadership skills.  This program is not intended exclusively for women already at the “top of the leadership class” but rather focused on supporting women bringing a variety of backgrounds and skill sets to the table to collaborate and learn from each other.  From seniors to young women, long-time residents to newcomers to the area, if these themes resonate with you and you have the time to commit these next eight months, please apply.

More questions?  See the FAQs below


•  Submit your online application here by January 29, 2016 - PAST DUE


Frequently Asked Questions

Q:  This all sounds interesting and I’d love to meet more women in my area, but I haven’t held any leadership positions or anything like that locally.  Would I still qualify?
A:  Absolutely. Soil Sisters:  Cultivating Women Leaders is intended to bring together a diverse group of women with various backgrounds and skill sets who value conservation and the common goal of connecting and learning together.  Feel free to be creative and personal in your application.

Q: I’d love to apply, but the $100 registration fee is out of my budget.
A:  Scholarships are available for any woman selected that needs one.  Please apply!

Q:  I’d love to apply, but I don’t live within an hour of Rochester, MN.
A:  Thanks for your enthusiasm!  Right now we are piloting this program specifically in that “one hour around Rochester” area but plan to bring it to other areas in the future.  Please register here for future program updates.

Q:  I’d love to apply, but I can’t make the full retreats.  Is that OK?
A:  To help support group connections, the one requirement is that you do make the initial full retreat in February and the final gathering in November.  Lodging, food, materials, etc. are all covered and we promise an inspiring 24-hours.

Q:  I’ve seen various rural leadership programs out there facilitated by different organizations.  How is this different?
A:  Two key differences of Soil Sisters are the focus on women only and the goal of building a lasting network of area women to continue connecting and collaborating.

Q:  Can I apply if I live in an urban area?
A:  You’re welcome to apply if you live in a more metro area (i.e., Rochester), but the program prioritizes building networks among rural women with shared conservation values.  If you do live in the city, you would need to have a connection to the surrounding rural farming community (i.e., own separate property, connections to a family farm, etc.)

Q:  Can you tell me exactly what the curriculum is and what we’ll be doing?  Who will be running the events? Where exactly will these three in-person meetings during the summer be?
A:  While we have some general ideas and things planned, the exact content will be determined at the opening retreat based on feedback and input from the group.  We’re hoping that some of the women involved may be interested in hosting one of the summer meetings. A group from Renewing the Countryside will be on-site to help facilitate and lead some activities while also tapping into and utilizing the expertise of the group.  

Q:  Can I bring my kids?
A:   Feel free to bring nursing babies.  Note there is no childcare on site and the retreats in particular will be in smaller, cozy places.  

Q:  I have specific dietary/ability needs.  Can you accommodate?
A:  Sure!  Just give us a heads-up to plan.

More questions?  Contact Beth Kallestad, Project Cooridnator <[email protected]>