Rolling Fresh Dough: Five Ways Rural Women Ecopreneurs Spark Economic Vibrancy

Need a venti-size jolt of positive enthusiasm amidst these dire economic times? Think one more round of the nightly news will tank you into a depression coma? Get out of the gloom scene and go where chicks grow green. Green acres, that is.

Rural women ecopreneurs continue to germinate new businesses across the countryside, running enterprises that blend livelihood with stewarding the landscape and a passion for good food. These stories serve up inspiring hope, a needed nutrient to dive media messages.

What’s different about rural women ecopreneurs? Think about a blend of Laura Ingalls, Arianna Huffington, Alice Waters with a dash of MacGyver on a farm. A pioneering, political and tech savvy foodie with a talent for making do with a roll of duct tape, these women follow the glass-half full school of opportunity, thinking “what if” versus “why me.”

I’m enthusiastically bubbling over, having just attended the Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin, this past weekend, sponsored by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). With a record-breaking attendance of over 2,600 participants, this annual gathering showcases the hope and optimism amongst organic growers – particularly women. Women now make up one of the fastest growing groups of people purchasing new farms today. With these stats in mind, I co-presented a workshop at the MOSES conference targeted toward women: See Jane Grow: How Women ECOpreneurs are Leading America’s Rural Renaissance. I wasn’t sure what kind of attendance to expect, so I was nervous when I realized the workshop was scheduled in a room that seats 200, and elated when 300 plus women jammed the room.

And jam we did. If the enthusiasm and energy in that room could be bottled and shipped to Washington D.C., the economic state of being would be resolved with some zucchini seeds, pesto recipes and a dash of compost. From seasoned growers to newbies plotting restaurants focusing on local foods, these women didn’t worry about finding jobs and preserving employment checks; they plotted how to do this from a self-employed, ecopreneurial launch pad.

Five things we can all learn, especially those politicians, from this group of rural women ecopreneurs germinating enterprises while at the MOSES Conference:

1. Collaborate, not compete
While I’d estimate most of the women attending “See Jane Grow” were sole-proprietors, you wouldn’t know it from the collaboration in the room. Screw competition and rising above, rural women ecopreneurs thrive in a collaborative, community environment that celebrates individual diversity and honors the strength in shared efforts.

I took a different tactic for the handout for this workshop. Rather than another stale resource list or – heavens no – photocopied Powerpoint slides, I asked a diverse group of these fellow ecopreneurs for a personal snapshot of their favorite resources, inspirations, reasons for wanting to change our food system. The responses were wide-ranging, honest and refreshing and is available to download off the Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) website. Curl up with it over a cup of coffee and feel surrounded by kindred spirits you simply haven’t met yet.

2. Integrate
“Work” and “life” blend into a high octane cocktail for these women. No boundaries, no formalities, no kids left behind these home-based businesses. Passion shouldn’t end – or start – at 5pm. One motivating reason for many of these ecopreneurs, including myself, is the opportunity to include children in business operations. Our son, Liam, is a co-author on our B&B cookbook, a badge he wears with pride.

Where’s such integration of home and work in the current economic recovery plan? With all the focus on creating paycheck jobs so people can “support” families, we forget the equation is flawed, basing it “leaving” the home front daily to support it. It begs the questions, what kind of jobs are we leaving our family to do? More ecological destruction, paving more roads, building bigger bridges?

3. Innovate
Interestingly, while these women in many ways are reviving traditional farm and homesteading skills, they are doing so in innovative ways. These women are making cheese in the handcrafted tradition, and posting video on the curing process on YouTube. Kriss Marion of Circle M Farms in Wisconsin blends her passions for agriculture and writing by creating one of the leading rural blogs, sharing her daily farm experiences with the world.

4. Educate
These women wear their “earth mission” – their overarching vision for what they want the world to become – as their calling card, tapping into every opportunity to educate and share this mission with others. Their mission isn’t to “sell more stuff” or “earn more profits,” it erupts from wanting to change the world. Denise O’Brien founded the Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) as a means to connect and network farm women, inspired and determined to give women a stronger voice in agriculture leadership.

Education equals empowerment. Again, an approach that is missing from the current recovery plan that aims on “helping” anyone from the average American to General Motors through cash, rather than life skills for self-sufficiency or the capacity to come together as a community to solve problems and restore vitality.

5. Eat!
The MOSES Conference brought these rural women ecopreneurs together based on a shared love for food. Plant it, raise it, harvest it, eat it. From farm to feast, these women see food as more than just a quick hunger fix, but rather a tool to transform the health of our environment, our people, our world. By sharing a love for food and the transformative powers in a fresh strawberry pie, we can change the world, bite by bite.

Photo credit: John Ivanko

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