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Soil Sisters: The support network every new farmer needs

The transition from urban living to rural living has been an adjustment, eased by the lessons learned and the experiences shared with my fellow Soil Sisters. I helped with a fall harvest of Aronia berries while learning about their nutritional benefits and their fairly bitter flavor. The day that I learned what a hoop house was was also the day I learned what a year’s worth of sheep’s excrement could look like . . . Soil Sisters has revealed to me that it isn’t the city that transcends new flavor, new creativity, or new expression, it’s the people that generate and challenge the movements of food and art that make life so bold and daring.






5/20/21

Monroe Times
By Patty Grimmer (Wonkas Harvest, Hollandale)

I am 23 years old. I am a dog mom, an athlete, a cook, an outdoor enthusiast, a writer, an environmentalist, an ally, a stubborn life partner, and to many people’s surprise, I am now a first-generation farmer and an owner of Wonka’s Harvest in Hollandale, Wisconsin.


With a strong midwestern root, I was born in Indianapolis and grew up in Madison. I spent my childhood biking on the Capital City Trail to farmers markets with my family and hanging out at parks along the lakes with friends. With an aversion to Wisconsin winters, I happily moved to Phoenix, Arizona for college. I studied urban planning and was infatuated by the sprawling city and its mountainous terrain. I liked feeling small and insignificant in what seemed like a migratory crossroad of people and cultures.


Love called and I moved to the Twin Cities to live in the same city as my partner and to finish degrees in Environmental Sciences and Environmental Education and Communication. The two of us and our dog lived downtown Saint Paul along the Mississippi River. If it weren’t for the decision to uproot our lives and move to Hollandale, Wisconsin to start this farm, I couldn’t have imagined myself not living right in the heart of a city. City life seemed to transcend new flavor, new creativity, new expression. There was less predictability. You move with the rhythms of your neighbors, with the concerts and food trucks down your street, and in our case — the flow of the Mississippi River.


I found myself embedding most of my time into the culture of food while living in Saint Paul. I worked with a program that promotes family stability through cooking and eating together. I interned at a school that allotted students an hour a day to experiment with an aquaponic system, growing both fish and microgreens. My academic trajectory began to focus more and more on food security and food sovereignty. I worked with an organization that converted a metro city bus into a mobile grocery store that stopped in food deserts. I managed a school’s community garden through the summer. I volunteered to be a reading tutor but spent most of my time with my students bonding over our love for various cuisines and comparing our cultural norms in the kitchen.


In many instances, food has been my lens into different cultures. I grew up craving spicy peppers, aromatic herbs, and strong spices. I was told the flavors represented generational stories, creativity, and familial tradition. I subsequently built a strong belief that food has the power to bridge cultural and social divides. Food has the power to nourish and strengthen people, families, and communities. Food can send you back to a place or remind you of a person. It can be expressive and complex, and it can also be simple and critical.


This is why I want to grow food. I want to grow food for people. I want to humanize the experience of eating fresh food again. I don’t want people to have to sacrifice their ethics when eating food and I want to do it in a way that allows everyone to have that choice — not just upper-class folks. That is why we started a pay-what-you-can CSA led by community assembly and community resilience.


We moved to a town with a population of less than 300 during a global pandemic and in the middle of a politically divisive election. I was worried that I would have a difficult time finding community in such a tense climate. But then I was referred to Soil Sisters and it seemed as if my opposite worlds had suddenly collided. These women are business people, educators, politicians, farmers, mothers, conservationists, scientists, artists, community supporters, and humbled citizens all at the same time. It’s impossible not to feel the sense of support and community resilience this alliance stands for and the comfort and reassurance they provide.


The transition from urban living to rural living has been an adjustment, eased by the lessons learned and the experiences shared with my fellow Soil Sisters. I helped with a fall harvest of Aronia berries while learning about their nutritional benefits and their fairly bitter flavor. The day that I learned what a hoop house was was also the day I learned what a year’s worth of sheep’s excrement could look like. I helped build a relocated high-tunnel and learned how to use a power tool correctly for the first time. During an effort to donate Thanksgiving meals to folks in need, many of the Soil Sisters rallied behind me in donating produce, meat, and home-baked goods. We have attended countless conferences forwarded on by Soil Sisters that have tremendously helped us in planning for our first season. We have budding business partnerships that I wouldn’t have ever seen possible without this collaborative network of womxn that incite a culture of unapologetic action and delivery.


Soil Sisters has revealed to me that it isn’t the city that transcends new flavor, new creativity, or new expression, it’s the people that generate and challenge the movements of food and art that make life so bold and daring.


— Patty Grimmer is the owner and operator at Wonka’s Harvest, a regenerative market vegetable farm in Hollandale, Wisconsin. Learn more at wonkasharvest.com. This Soil Sisters column originally ran in The Monroe Times on 5/20/21.



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