Book Review: Soil Sisters - a Toolkit for Women Farmers, by Lisa Kivirist

SoilSistersIf you know Lisa Kivirist, as I do, this book will be exactly as wonderful as you expect. If you don’t know her yet, you’ll feel as though you do after just a few pages of Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers. Lisa’s new book is equal parts practical advice and inspiration. She says it’s the book she wishes she’d had when she began her eco-preneurial journey 20 years ago as a farmer and B&B owner in Wisconsin. (Learn more about her business at this link.) She’s definitely got the credentials to create a useful toolkit for women farmers: she’s Senior Fellow, Endowed Chair in Agricultural Systems at the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture and a national advocate for women in sustainable agriculture. She founded and directs the Rural Women’s Project of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), an award-winning initiative championing female farmers and food-based entrepreneurs. She and her husband, John Ivanko, are authors of four prior books about farm-based businesses. And most relevant, she and her husband and son operate a successful farmstay B&B, Inn Serendipity, in southwest Wisconsin -- after leaving behind the cubicle life in Chicago more than 20 years ago.

After working with women engaged in healthy food and farming for many years, I find that we are all starving for two things: information and community. Luckily for us, as Lisa so elegantly illustrates in Soil Sisters, these two things are natural partners. Women learn best from one another, and through this networking, we build our tribes.


A publication of the fabulous New Society Publishers (check out their other fare, including Lisa’s earlier books, at this link), the book is composed of four sections: Understanding Our Roots (origins and polyculture dreams); Gleaning Knowledge (farm smarts); Plowing Ahead (supplying the bank account and sustaining the soul); and Cultivating Quality of Life (nurturing your body, mind, and spirit).

Each section is written in Lisa’s trademark positive, conversational style, and draws on the wisdom of dozens of successful women farmers and advocates through sidebar features and quotes. At 227 pages, it’s a manageable but satisfying meal that you can consume in one long or several short sittings.

Responding to our dual need for information and inspiration, Lisa provides nuts and bolts details about finding land, building a business plan, using technology, and diversifying your income base. But it’s in the chapters on self-care, finding balance, and navigating the social challenges of being a female (straight or gay, white or of color) in a white-male-dominated landscape that Soil Sisters goes the extra mile as a resource.

Cliché or not, I both laughed and cried as I read this book, and I dare you not to do the same. If you are, or love, a woman engaged in healthy food and farming, you can’t do her a much bigger favor than to buy this book. Do that here. Both print ($24.95) and e-book ($16.20) versions are available.

Leigh Adcock is communications and conference coordinator for Women, Food and Agriculture Network. Reach her at