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How to cultivate change this spring

(Photo Credit: Natasha Bowens)

(Photo Credit: Natasha Bowens)

Among the women featured in Lisa Kivirist’s new book, Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers, is Natasha Bowens – author, beginning farmer and creator of the multimedia project The Color of Food. In this article, Bowens explains to Kivirist how she gets herself ready for the busy season of spring. Kivirist, who runs a farm and B&B in southern Wisconsin, spends long hours in the field herself this time of year, having learned that an hour of weeding in spring equals three hours come summer. How are you preparing for spring?

Strawberry spinach salad topped with homemade strawberry vinaigrette: those are the flavours Natasha Bowens craves as spring draws near.

“For me, spring is about those first crocuses, the sudden sprouts and the busy chirping of birds that just fill me with instant joy,” says Bowen, author of The Color of Food: Stories of Race, Resilience and Farming. “I get excited for all the winter planning to come into fruition and look forward to breaking ground and getting my hands dirty again.”

But these vernal tastes mean more to Bowens than just satisfaction for the palate. For this prolific writer, activist and visionary champion of farmers of colour, particularly women, the annual fresh start of spring is a reminder to rekindle and recharge her passion to transform the food system.

Here are three ways Bowens suggests we can all refresh our shared passion for healthy food, sustainability and stewarding the landscape:

1. Consciously Recharge

Is there one thing you do that, when finished, makes you feel as recharged as waking up from a long deep sleep? Do that more often. For Bowens, that thing is writing.

“I have kept a journal for my thoughts and reflections since I was a very young girl,” she says, “but my writing takes many forms. Sometimes it’s dreaming and planning, sometimes it’s reflecting, sometimes it’s venting and digging, but every time it leaves me feeling recharged and inspired for the next thing.”

(Photo Credit: Natasha Bowens)

(Photo Credit: Natasha Bowens)

2. Support Women Farmers

Women today make up one of the fastest-growing groups of new farmers, sharing a commitment to local, fresh, sustainably-raised crops and livestock. In that spirit of sisterhood, there’s an empowering rush that comes from collaborating with female farmers, from seeking out and supporting new women farmers coming to the farmers’ market for the first time, to connecting with other women in your area for advice on everything from cultivating cabbage to raising rabbits.

Don’t know many kindred spirited women in your area? Start gathering the ones you do know around the table for regular potlucks and be amazed at what develops. Here’s some advice that came out of launching such a local network in southern Wisconsin.

“As women, we just get it. We’re all tapped into our power,” Bowens notes. “I don’t just mean our strength and endurance on the farm… It’s as if we have connected with the power in the soil and see a reflection of that power within ourselves. Despite the obstacles and marginalization, every woman farmer I’ve met won’t stand for anyone telling her she’s not capable of farming. We know we were made for this dance with Mother Nature.

3. Dream Big

Spring ushers in an annual opportunity to really amplify and super-size our dreams and visions – those sparks that drive our days. As Mother Nature creates colourful vitality out of landscapes that were once dark, frozen and bleak, we too can dream big for change, particularly within our food system.

Bowens keeps her passion sparked by percolating a list of big ideas. “I would love to see real reform in our agricultural policies that shift subsidies away from large corporate monoculture farms and truly invest in beginning farmers, immigrant farmers, farmers of colour, women farmers and urban farms,” she says. “We need a huge shift in how our food system operates, returning to the regional system farming we used to have and similar to what Vermont and New England are doing now to produce 80 percent of their own food regionally. Mostly, we need a major shift in who holds the power in agriculture and food just like the shift in power we need in general in this country.”

It may be a tall order, but that’s what keeps Bowens keyboard clicking and fingers digging in that spring soil. “It’s those fierce farming women and bad-ass young farmers of colour who are not only growing food but growing a revolution that are my inspiration – in spring and all year round.”

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