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Female farmers connect at conference

Lisa Soyring feeds hay to 200 head of cattle on the Maple farm she runs with her husband, Jim, and four children. The Soyrings began with six cows in 1991 and expanded to a farm operation that covers 928 acres. She spoke at a women in agriculture conference last week about how she balances family activities and farm life. (Submitted photo)

Lisa and Jim Soyring bought their first six cows together in 1991. Today, the couple and their four children care for 200 head of beef cattle. About 150 of the cows give birth each spring, and the calves are sold in the fall.

"In addition to the cattle we also have chickens, roosters, turkeys, farm cats, a dog, horses and chinchillas," Lisa Soyring said. The family grows corn and hay crops on part of their 928 acres to feed the herd.

"I love working with the animals," Soyring said. Days are spent in the open air and seeing the baby calves every spring "renews your excitement for farming."

After the birth of their fourth child, Lisa left the Duluth Clinic, her employer for 11 years, to run the farm full-time. Her husband continues to work days as a laborer/operator for J.R. Jensen. Each of the kids, ages 15, 12, 9 and 7, have daily chores in addition to schoolwork and activities that run the gamut from wrestling and football to Girl Scouts and 4-H.

"I pride myself that we're a totally family-run farm," Soyring said. "Although I'm home during the day to run the farm, it wouldn't work unless we all worked together." The key to running the farm, she has found, is balancing, prioritizing and writing down appointments on a datebook she keeps by the phone.

In Gordon, Jayne and Mike Ross care for 30 heard of beef cattle on their 200 acres of land, raising chickens and a garden on the side.

"It really is, truly, a lifestyle," Jayne Ross said. "It's a passion." Although both have day jobs -- Ross is a benefits coordinator for Jeff Foster Trucking and her husband is the Gordon road superintendent -- the cattle are top priority.

"Animal care always comes first," Ross said. "And at the very bottom of the list is housework." Although the couple sells bull calves off each fall, Ross has been able to keep two. Bottle feeding them as calves turned Buttons and Gimple into pets, although they are about 1,200 pounds each and have horns.

Both women shared their stories during the Heart of the Farm, Women in Agriculture conference last week. The 25 participants ranged in age from 23 to 75 and came from many different farm situations.

"I was surprised at how grateful the women were," said Jane Anklam, agriculture and horticulture educator with UW-Cooperative Extension Service, who helped coordinate the conference. "I have never held one of these conferences before, and now I understand why they are so sought out by women around the state."

Soyring and Ross both appreciated the chance to connect with like-minded farming women.

"It was kind of fun talking about the farming life," Soyring said. "They can relate to things you're saying."

"In Douglas County, depending on your location, you can feel isolated in this lifestyle," Ross said. "The networking is hard."

The two said they would love to see the number of farms in the county to grow.

"I don't ever see there being enough farmers," Soyring said. "The food has to come from somewhere. I'd rather see it come from local (farms) rather than overseas."

There is a sense of joy and accomplishment in producing food, not just consuming it, Ross said.

"I would love for everybody to start," she said. Even if you live on a small lot in Superior, a $1.19 pack of green bean seeds and a little work can provide vegetables for a family of two, Ross said.

"It would be great if everyone would be able to experience at least a day on a farm," Soyring said, and feel the accomplishment that comes at the end of a day's hard work.

Farming is an occupation where women have been on equal footing with men for a long time, Ross said. They work side-by-side, from checking the books to pitching haybales in summer heat.

Douglas County has a high percentage of women-managed farms. In 2007, 180 of the 505 farms in Douglas County, or 35 percent, were operated by women.

"I just want people to know you can be a successful farmer in Douglas County," Ross said. "You need to accept the limitations." Those include the local climate and personal limitations. But, she said, "There is help out there."

Soyring suggested that people start farming on a small level and ease into it. More information is available by contacting Anklam at 715-395-1515 or via email at jane.anklam@ces.uwex.edu or online at http://douglas.uwex.edu/.

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