Faces & Visions of the Food Movement: Lisa Kivirist



We featured Lisa’s ideas back in July [Work with Passion: Four Reasons Why Blending Business and Life Rocks for Women in Agriculture] as a part of our support of Farmer Jane. As the work of women farmers continues to gain attention, we wanted to learn more about this dynamic woman who champions the voices of women farmers and ecopreneurs from her bucolic Wisconsin bed and breakfast. Lisa is also a Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellow specializing in the role of women in agriculture and speaks on the subject frequently.

What issues have you been focused on?

I work on a diversity of issues under the sustainability umbrella. My family and I run Inn Serendipity, a diversified farm and bed and breakfast and grow our own food and food for the business. We specialize in a 10-feet breakfast, from the garden to the B&B plate. We have a lot of fun creating seasonal offerings featuring seasonal garden abundance and local Wisconsin cheese. We run the farm on renewable energy and do a lot of educational outreach around sustainability and green design issues. We retrofitted an old grainary into a strawbale greenhouse, for example.

I also work in the growing movement of women in sustainable agriculture and direct the Rural Women’s Project with the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) where we do workshops , farm trainings and policy work. Next spring we’ll have the first national summit on women in sustainable agriculture, organizing around developing a collaborative platform.

My writing focuses on green business start-ups and how to craft a livelihood around your values. In addition to co-authoring ECOpreneuring and Rural Renaissance with my husband, John Ivanko, I write for publications like Urban Farm and Hobby Farm Home.

What inspires you to do this work?

I see food as the low hanging fruit of social change. We all eat. We all do it regularly. It’s actionable and tangible. And everyone can relate to it. For my family and I, it was a way to fundamentally change our lives. We were living in Chicago, we said we valued food, but most of it got moldy in the refrigerator because we were so caught up in the corporate career track that we were never home to eat it, much less cook or garden. We started being weekend tourists in rural Wisconsin, and falling in love with the countryside. Eventually we bought a farm and jumped into the world of sustainable agriculture. Now we’re inspired to help others do the same, to create a livelihood around what you’re passionate about.

The more we can help others, whatever their path may be, the better… that serves as a strong root to our inspiration for the last 14 years now since we moved to the farm and started Inn Serendipity.

What’s your overall vision?

We need to fundamentally shift our society so that we no longer support one based on fossil fuels. Food is an easy entry point for people.

What books and/or blogs are you reading right now?

This time of year, post harvest, we actually have a big movie-watching session. Last night, we saw The Road, which was amazing and motivating. I’ve been watching a lot of cooking shows on DVD. The classic Julia Childs shows, which I’d never seen, are both entertaining and inspiring. I’ve been watching 1970’s Little House on the Prairie series with my son. So interesting how those stories and visuals influenced me when I was growing up.

This is also my time of year to read cookbooks and re-fresh my ideas. I’m really into a new book called Winter Harvest all about creative cooking through the winter … getting funky with those turnips.

Who’s in your community?

My super immediate community is my husband and our son, Liam. One of our goals of moving to the farm is to generate our income on-farm and therby base our daily lives here. We home school Liam and John and I work together on a lot of projects; which connects us in ways that we didn’t have when we were commuting in Chicago.

My local community’s interest in sustainable agriculture continue to grow, which I’m thrilled about. Next week we are starting an informal Green County Women in Sustainable Agriculture group, which considering where I live, very conventional farm country, is a really cool step.

What are your commitments?

My priority commitment is to my family, my circle of friends, and the people I engage and collaborate with on these shared visions. Time with them needs to be prioritized regularly. We call it plate management in our family: How to manage the projects and priorities on our plates and balance that with savoring the beauty and bounty of farm life.

What are your goals?

To continue to help support and inspire people, particularly women who are looking to launch enterprises that champion change in the food system. I’ve made such a fundamental change from the way I used to live, had I never had that type of support myself, I would not be where I am now. Support can happen in different ways, from people coming to the B&B and having conversations around the campfire, to the written word, to trainings and education programs.

What does change look like to you?

It happens when we are constantly able to look forward and vision and act for a better future. For example, here in Wisconsin, 20 years ago, there were renegade visionaries that created what are now inspiring sustainability leaders in the Midwest, like Organic Valley, MOSES, and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association.

We need to keep that momentum going and identify the new crazy ideas we need to instigate now. Change is based on creative innovative and being open to crazy-big thinking, or we are going to be just dog paddling in the status quo.

Regarding the practicalities of enacting change, what planning is involved? What kind of outreach?

A challenge for me is to constantly step back and assess priorities. All of us working in this realm have limited resources, be it time or money or both. We need to really take time for big picture idea visioning and planning. And, we need to continue to stress a diversity of views. Women are a great example, because if all views aren’t represented, we won’t have a comprehensive agenda. We need all priorities present to create an inclusive vision we can move on.

What projects are affiliated with yours?

MOSES. MREA, The Women in Food and Agriculture Network. IATP. The National Sustainable Ag Coalition – I’m doing farmer training and connecting the farmer voices with the media. Renewing the Countryside – they champion positive stories in rural revitalization and microenterprise. The WhiteHouseProject.org is a bi-partisan group that conducts leadership training for women. I’ve been partnering with them to get more women involved in leadership and agriculture.

What projects and people have you got your eye on or are you impressed by?

Something we’ve been tracking is the Transition Town Movement. I’m intrigued and impressed that it’s catching on at a very grassroots level; that people are curious about peak oil and post-peak oil and are getting things done in creative ways. Another growing trend I’ve been watching is cottage food legislation. These state-specific laws enable individuals and businesses to sell things made in home-based, non-commercial kitchens. In Wisconsin this legislation is informally known as the “Pickle Bill.” It could inspire a whole renaissance of food artists in various places, encouraging these businesses to more easily sell at farmers markets and community events. Michigan just passed theirs last week. I think we’ll see more impacts from the success of it in the coming year.

Where do you see the state of agriculture/food policy in the next 5-10 years? Is real policy change a real possibility?

Yes. I think we live in a very hopeful time because this movement keeps growing in ways I don’t think the industry or Capital Hill expected. I think we’ll see growth of people supporting a healthy food system and with that comes economic growth; that needs to happen before broader policy change. We see the impact of these seeds of change, especially in rural communities. And, they will only continue to grow in the next 5-10 years as a movement and a voice.

What does the food movement need to do, be or have to be more effective?

We continually need to broaden our inclusion factor with communities, cultures and people. We must remember and celebrate that fact that there is a diversity of ways to get things done and there is no one road or high road for that matter. I think we can get mired in the details and miss the broader picture that we all have a passion for good healthy food. I may put cheese on mine and you may prefer yours fried. But, those details don’t matter. We need this diversity to stir up the pot for change.

We also need to remember the fun factor in food. When we get too caught up in legislation minutia or specifics, we often lose the fact that we are all passionate about food because we love the joy of it. Which can be celebrated in a variety of ways, each of which need to be celebrated more.

What would you want to be your last meal on earth?

A good classic Wisconsin answer: One of our fabulous Wisconsin Friday night fish fries. So, I’d have to leave this world on a Friday! Local beer in the batter and accordion music on tap.

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