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Natural Awakenings Milwaukee Magazine

Cultivate Connections: Lessons from Women Farmers on Growing 
a Local Network

Aug 01, 2022 12:00AM ● By Lisa Kivirist

Sue Nelson with Zuke Cake.

Never underestimate what women coming together for a potluck can do. More than 15 years ago, a dozen organic women farmers gathered with a simple goal of connecting with other women that shared their love for the land and having fingers in the soil to grow healthy, seasonal food. This network, now called Soil Sisters, has grown to more than 250 women in southern Wisconsin that over the years have discovered what works in empowering women through cultivating community, one shared casserole dish at a time.

“Soil Sisters exemplifies how when women know each other personally and share stories over potlucks and meals together, we grow and feel personally supported to take important personal risks such as starting one’s own farm to running for county board,” shares Jan Joannides, executive director of Renewing the Countryside, the nonprofit home for the Soil Sisters project that works to champion rural revitalization and stewarding the land. “Finding kindred spirits that share values of sustainability and local food is so empowering; even more so in our rural countryside where organic women farmers can often feel alone and isolated.”

Lisa Kivirist is the author of Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers and co-authored Homemade for Sale, Farmstead Chef, Rural Renaissance and ECOpreneuring with her husband, John Ivanko. She is also a founding Soil Sister at that first potluck and runs Inn Serendipity Farm with her family in southern Wisconsin, completely powered by renewable energy.

Learn more about Soil Sisters at

Soil Sisters Potluck Recipe

Special Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Wisconsin-based Soil Sister Sue Nelson shares her favorite summer potluck recipe using bountiful local zucchini, always a favorite!

Yields: 12-16 servings

½ cup butter
½ cup applesauce (or vegetable oil)
1 cup brown sugar
¾ cup white sugar
2 eggs
½ cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp salt
3 Tbsp cocoa
1 Tbsp espresso powder
2½ cup grated or shredded zucchini
½ cup chopped walnuts
1 cup dark cocoa pieces

Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Cream together butter, applesauce, and sugars. Add eggs, sour cream, and vanilla. Blend well.
In a separate bowl, sift dry ingredients together.
Blend dry ingredients into the butter mixture.
Add walnuts and cocoa pieces. Fold in.
Add zucchini. Mix well.
Spoon into a greased and cocoa dusted bundt pan.
Bake for 45 minutes. Let cool and serve.