July 3, 2016 – Sisters of the Soil, Water and Strawberries

The continuing quest to save the Marshall Strawberry

I first spoke to artist Leah Gauthier in May of 2013 when she appeared on my program to talk about the Marshall Strawberry.

You should know, however, that her background is about exploring foodgrowing, eating, cooking, preserving, scent and memory, food as sculptural material, history of food and agriculture, revival and protection of endangered food plants, urban agriculture, sustainable and transitional growing, food as cultural identity and as an agent of social change.

I guess that’s what getting a BFA at the Art Institute of Chicago will do to you. But back to the Marshall Strawberry.


In brief, it had once been on top of the culinary fruit bowl, lauded by no less than James Beard as the best tasting berry in Christendom. But by 2007, it was down to three solitary plants at the USDA’s Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon.

Somehow, Gauthier managed to talk those researchers into providing her with three runners that she turned into hundreds of plants, including now about a dozen in my own back yard!

She returns to the show today to talk about art, moving from Indianapolis to Maine, and, of course the continuing progress of the Marshall Strawberry.

Soil Sisters: the book and the celebration

Speaking of people who have been on my program before, farmer and author Lisa Kivirist returns to The Mike Nowak Show today. She and husband John Ivanko talked to me about their book Farmstead Chef in January of 2012.  I can’t believe it’s been that long. By the way, they operate Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast at their organic farm near Monroe, Wisconsin

In 2015, they put out another book together, Homemade for Sale: How to Set Up and Market a Food Business from Your Home Kitchen. And this year, Lisa penned her own, called Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers. All three books are published by New Society Publishers.

The latest two books acknowledge that when it comes to food, we live in a changing world. More people want to grow their own, and many of those folks want to cook, bake or preserve products of their own design. The majority of those people are women. Kivirist and Ivanko address the need for some basic “how to” information for that segment of the population and they provide it in spades.

In an article in Natural Awakenings Chicago, Kivirist writes:

When the commercial organic industry launched in the 1990s, women organized to provide overlooked and undervalued perspectives. The wakeup call for Denise O’Brien, an organic vegetable farmer and owner of Rolling Hills Acres, near Atlantic, Iowa, came during the farm economic crisis of the preceding decade. Although still considered “just” farm wives, “It was the women on the farms that had foreseen where things were heading, because they often kept the accounting books, though nobody took their voices seriously,” O’Brien recalls.

Indeed, as Kivirist notes in Soil Sisters, simply saying the word “organic” 30 years ago could get women in trouble with their male Soil Sisterscounterparts. But progress has been made. She writes that after a century of working to gain respect from their male counterparts, “there are nearly one million women farmers today, representing about 30 percent of all farmers.” However, she notes that “Per the Census of Agriculture, our famrs are definitely smaller than the average: 54 percent of our farms are smaller than 50 acres in size.”

But more and more, women look to themselves to learn about farming. Which is why the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) is sponsoring a workshop called In Her Boots: Sustainable Agriculture For Women, By Women.

It’s a one-day workshop and tour of Sandhill Family Farms, 560 Harris Road, Grayslake, Illinois 60030 on Friday, July 15 from 10am to 3pm. You can register here.

That will be followed in August by a three-day event called, unsurprisingly, Soil Sisters: A Celebration of Wisconsin Farms & Rural Life. It runs from August 5 to 7:

From heirloom tomatoes to cottage food products, sheep to solar energy, bed & breakfasts to beef, the farmers and artisan food producers share a unique diversity of farm experiences showcasing the summer’s bounty.  Choose from a variety of activities including Dinner on the Farm, plentiful on-farm “Green Acres” workshops, a Taste of Place culinary event, plus area restaurants featuring “locavore” specials throughout the weekend.

Linda Kivirist joins Peggy and me on the show this morning. She is joined by Jen Riemer of Riemer Family Farm.  Jen and her family sell their meat at the Woodstock Farmers Market and also supply the meat share for Sandhill Family Farms.  Her farm will be on the Soil Sisters Tour in August.

Life in a Great Lakes ravine

Some women make their marks in the soil by saving heirloom strawberries and creating farms. And some women do it by preserving some of the rarest ecosystems in the world, which, by the way, if you happen to live near Lake Michigan, are right in your backyard.

The woman to whom I’m referring is Rebecca Grill, Natural Areas Manager for the Park District of Highland Park, and the ecosystems are the ravines on the western shores of Lake Michigan. Highland Park is home to 10 named ravines, more than any other community in Illinois.  These steep valleys and streams run direct to Lake Michigan and support interesting plant animal and insect species–as well as beauty for residents.

They face some challenges, too.  Since the 1930s they have been used to convey storm water away from homes and businesses resulting in disturbance of the stream channel and sediment loading to the Lake–which 8 million people (in Milwaukee and Chicago alone)  rely on for drinking water, recreation and enjoyment.

In 2013, I learned something about the Lake Michigan ravines in Highland Park when I was able to tour the brand new Openlands Lakeshore Preserve with Openlands COO Bob Megquier.

Grill is now working to engage citizens to learn about those fragile and endangered topographical features by going to a website called HP Ravines. I was struck by a quote on the site from Highland Park High School students Arielle and Jenna, who state that “Both residents and non residents don’t know enough information about this precious ecosystem, and are hurting it by default through their lifestyles and choices.” Ravine 7L

Grill would also like people to get involved with The Highland Park Ravines Project. They

work to protect the ravine environment through partnership with the City of Highland Park, the Gary Borger chapter of Trout Unlimited, Highland Park High School, local elementary schools and countless other members of the community. Our efforts are supported by the USEPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI),  the US Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration (GLFER) program and the IDNR’s Illinois Coastal Management Program (ICMP).

The  importance of the ravines can be lost on the average citizen. Fish making their way upstream use pools as places to rest and hide from predators. In the past few years, fish ladders have been constructed  to allow fish to move upstream more easily, from pool to pool. Rock overhangs have been added above the pools to provide additional places to hide.

And that’s just the beginning of what we can all learn. It’s been years (I don’t remember exactly how many!) since Rebecca Grill was on my program. I welcome her back.