Two organizations were honored as the 2019 Top Rural Development Initiatives during the Wisconsin Rural Summit held late last month in Rice Lake. Awards were presented to the following:
• Soil Sisters: A Celebration of Wisconsin Farms and Rural Life, launched in 2012, is a community-organized agritourism weekend celebrating and sharing the rural heritage through the lens of women farmers. It’s the largest event of its kind in the U.S.
The annual event, set for Aug. 2-4 this year, involves more than 20 women-owned farmers in the Green County area and a team of more than 25 collaborative partners. The weekend, which has brought positive economic development to communities such as Browntown and Blanchardville, includes on-farm workshops, culinary events and farm tours open to the public.
Beyond the August event, Soil Sisters’ community impact ripples throughout the year with potlucks and a educational and informational listserve of more than 225 area women.
The 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture showed a growing number of women farmers nationwide. Some 13,000 Wisconsin farms — or 20 percent of the total 64,800 — are owned or managed by women.
• Vernon Trails, established 12 years ago, is a 100 percent volunteer-run nonprofit organization committed to developing and maintaining roadways, sustainable trails and outdoor recreational opportunities for “human-powered users.”
The effort has grown to include more than 800 volunteers.
Among other projects, Vernon Trails has advocated for, collaborated on, built and maintained more than 50 miles of shared-use trails; created, participated in and executed more than 100 community events; built an 18-hole disc golf course on VFW land in Viroqua and created winter fat biking opportunities at the same site; and collaborated with the county forester to address and assist in the containment or eradication of invasive species.
A total of 20 nominations were received this year for the Top Rural Development Initiatives awards, according to Sandy Decker, former Evansville mayor and member of the Wisconsin Rural Partners board of directors.