Photo by Rachael Brugger
If soil had a sister, someone who passionately stood by and fought for its well-being at all times and at all costs, it would be Atina Diffley. She’s a rock-star farmer who for more than 20 years ran Gardens of Eagan, located in Northfield, Minn., and one of the first certified organic produce farms in the Midwest. Diffley now takes her mission of advocating for healthy food and soil to a new level with her inspiring memoir, Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works (University of Minnesota Press, 2012).
In Turn Here Sweet Corn, Diffley shares her dramatic story of creating a successful farm operation and the David-versus-Goliath battles she fights along the way, including successfully taking on Koch Industries, an corporate energy conglomerate that aimed to put a crude-oil pipeline on her land. Like the soil sister she is, she fiercely worked to preserve the earth under her feet, the soil that with tender care gifted her and her community of customers with bountiful, healthy harvests. She also created an organic mitigation plan to protect the soils and certification of Minnesota organic farms. Wisconsin has since adopted a similar organic mitigation plan.
“I talk from who I am and speak from my own truth through the hats I wear: mother, writer, woman, wife and farmer,” Diffley says. “Women, in particular, as bearers of life, tend to have different perspectives on food, earth and relationships, and we have this strong urge to share it with others. We need to see ourselves as protectors of the soil.”
Soil takes on a spiritual quality for Diffley, rooted from her experiences in caring for and restoring her farmland.
“When we purchased our farm, the former owners had not left much diversity,” she says. “The soil was so compacted the rain puddled or ran off. It couldn’t soak in. But after three years of adding organic matter and building the soil quality, the change was staggering and served as the lesson that fueled my direction and dedication to managing a farm based on soil health.”
Diffley uses this “soil sister” imagery in her writing and advocacy work and it inspired a tour of women-owned farms in our corner of southwestern Wisconsin. The Soil Sisters: South Central Wisconsin Women In Sustainable Agriculture Farm Tour will be held Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013.
“As soil sisters, we can all be conscious of our actions and eat, relate and advocate as if the earth matters,” Diffley says. “Look to the future, but remember long-term change takes time. It took the suffragettes over 70 years to secure the right for women to vote and the women who started this movement weren’t around to see the results. It’s the same long-term fight for the health of our soil and we all have a role to play.”
Diffley reminds us that change can start with every meal, every food choice we make. At the peak of summer harvest, we have abundant opportunities to savor the fresh flavors of the summer garden. Given the book’s title, Diffley has a sweet spot for sweet corn, a longtime favorite at her Gardens of Eagan farmstand. Diffley shares two of her favorite corn soup recipes below. Find more recipes with corn and other simple and tasty harvest recipes on her website.
Recipe: Fresh Corn and Tomato Soup
Courtesy Atina Diffley
Yield: 4 servings
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 T. oil
- 4 cups fresh corn kernels
- 4 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- handful fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
In heavy pan, sauté onion, celery and garlic until tender. Add corn, tomatoes, water and salt to sautéed vegetables. Cover and simmer about 1/2 hour. Purée soup. Stir in cilantro just before serving.
Recipe: Corn Chowder
Courtesy Atina Diffley
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
- 1/2 cup onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup celery, chopped
- 1/2 cup potato, diced
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
- 1 cup fresh corn kernels
- 2 cups milk or soy milk
Simmer onion, celery, potato and parsley in water until half cooked, about 10 min. Add corn. Simmer gently a few minutes, until vegetables are tender. Add milk. Bring soup to boil without actually boiling. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Savoring the good life,