This week on Tent Talk our guest is Lisa Kivirist, farmer, advocate for women in sustainable agriculture, and author of Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers. In this episode Lisa shares her passion for cottage food law, how the community of female farmers is growing, and why she loves going to conferences. 

Lisa never really planned to become a farmer, but after a childhood spent in the suburbs and a career in the city, she was dreaming of something different. In 1997 Lisa and her husband moved to rural Wisconsin where they opened the Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast, a two-bedroom inn powered by wind and solar energy generated on site. On the 5.5 acres of farmland surrounding Inn Serendipity, Lisa grows organic produce using sustainable farming methods.

Support your local female farmer

When she’s not working on her own farm, Lisa spends her time helping other female farmers. In 2008 she founded the award-winning In Her Boots project for the Midwest Organic Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), a project she continues to lead that champions female farmers and food-based entrepreneurs. She also facilitates the largest women-farmer-led annual event in the nation, Soil Sisters: A Celebration of Wisconsin Farms and Rural Life, a project of the Wisconsin Farmers Union.

Lisa sees these programs as vital to the strength of the female farming community, from an educational standpoint but also for camaraderie and sense of belonging. “You just can’t beat gathering farmers together for that information exchange, particularly women farmers,” says Lisa. “There’s an instant intimacy when you get women farmers together.”

When women farmers gather, information is shared and the barriers to entry are reduced. “It’s not like we need a ‘how to grow garlic’ workshop. There’s lots of great ag resources out there for the practical. But it’s those things that aren’t covered in between the lines.”

The female farming community has grown over the last few years, propelled by the strength of the organic food movement as well as increased recognition of women farmers on a social, political, and economic level. Lisa is excited to see the trend of women in ag continue.

“You keep hearing about this growth of new women farmers and it’s all good, but it’s kind of funny because women raising food and feeding their families and communities is the oldest thing!”

Fight for your right to bake at home

In addition to championing female farmers, Lisa is a leading advocate for cottage food entrepreneurs. After running into regulatory barriers when trying to sell baked goods made at her bread & breakfast, she took on Wisconsin state cottage food laws as an issue worth fighting for. “Making bread in your kitchen and selling it to your neighbor is like the oldest form of commerce ever.”

For three years Lisa worked tirelessly to get the “Cookie Bill” passed in the Wisconsin Senate to no avail. The proposed bill would simply allow cottage food operators to sell low-risk baked goods made in their home, but it kept running into political complications. Determined on a legislative breakthrough, Lisa filed a lawsuit against the state of Wisconsin declaring the ban on the sale of home baked goods unconstitutional. In October 2017 the judge ruled in her favor.

Cottage food operations serve as a low-investment route towards small business ownership. “It’s empowerment. You’re going for hobbyist who loves to bake to entrepreneur,” says Lisa. Homemade for Sale: How to Set Up and Market a Food Business from Your Home Kitchen, written by Lisa and her husband John, serves as a resource for bakers interested in starting cottage food businesses.

Where can I listen to Lisa’s full episode of Tent Talk?

There are many ways to listen to Tent Talk. You can stream directly from our website or by clicking the player below. You can also easily listen on a mobile device via iTunesStitcher, YouTube, or wherever you get your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any episodes!

Do you have a farmers’ market question you’d like us to answer on air? Got an idea for a future episode topic? Is there someone you think we should interview? Please let us know!

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