Grab a cup of tea, read on, and learn from this wise, inspiring woman.
Liz Wagner, Pioneer and Owner at Crooked Row Farm
Liz is a Seed Farm and Lehigh County Farmland Preservation board member, an impassioned advocate for local food and farmer collaborations, an emissary for wayward farmhands and bottle feeders, a farm blogger and, occasionally, a Lancaster Farming journalist. She also wrote an e-book a few years ago about solo lady farming. Together with her family, her Greenhouse Goddess Mother, a group of supportive veggie drivers, meal deliverers, chicken wranglers, stand staff and field champions, as well as a growing and committed group of folks who support the Crooked Row dreams and dieting choices with their food dollars, the farm continues to grow and change shape to meet the eating needs in this little pocket of the Valley. When her hands aren’t in the dirt, they are on notebooks and pens. And even when they’re in the dirt, there’s an audiobook playing somewhere nearby.
What does the word empower mean to you?
Empower, to me, means to be in such a state of positive and confident forward momentum that others around you wish to be near you, or feel equally inspired to move as you do.
In what way(s) do you empower yourself? Others?
I think I’ve been empowering others before I realized I was empowering myself. Sure, I’ve made strong and independent business choices on my own over the last six years, but I didn’t own or rejoice in those decisions. I just made them and kept moving forward without taking the time to process or feel proud of those choices. It wasn’t until other women in my life started reaching out and told me that my life choices had caused them to feel brave enough to leave a job or a relationship or tentatively start a new project that I started to realize a bigger weight in my decisions. I started to take pride in my choices, to feel more confident in making them, and started to ask for outside validation a lot less.
What is your favorite way to be mindful?
Birdsong. I try to take a few minutes every day to be outside, audiobook off, and just walk near the greenhouse or outside my house to listen to the birds. When I’m at the farmstand, I mosey back to the chickens, watch them gallivant about, and remember that this is why I chose to work outside. I remember to breathe.
Who are your role models?
I have met such beautiful, strong women building their local food economies. Some are farmer wives who run farm-forward nonprofits, some are the partner in a married-farmer operation, some are single moms leading food policy councils, bakeries and advocacy groups. And not just farm women. When I returned to the Lehigh Valley, I met this incredible network of spiritually-minded, welcoming women who have helped me understand myself so much more than I ever have before.
Also, my mom. She is loved by everyone around her, quietly powerful and courageous, patient beyond belief, and immeasurably supportive. She’s also wildy snarky, once you get to know her, and the older I get the more I appreciate knowing this about her. She’s one of the most hilarious people I know. I would not be the strong, stubborn, confident, literate human I am today without her guidance and support. My sister, aunt and grandma share those same characteristics, and I think we’ve acted as buoys for each other, especially over the last ten years.
What’s your superpower?
I’m a connector. Definitely. Whether it is a suitable date or someone who would enhance a facet of your business, I can find the right person in the area to steer in your direction, or the right ask to get you five steps further in a process. Also, I’ve decided that early rising counts as a superpower ;) My brain is at 200% between 4:30-6am, before any other inputs can sneak in and distract me.
What advice would you give to your younger self/someone just starting out?
I would tell younger Liz not to panic, to stretch more before work, and to be proud. I would also probably recommend she start learning to love spreadsheets, planners and organizers sooner, haha.
How do you deal with fear?
Honestly? On some days, I can ignore it until it morphs into something more benign, like anxiety or nerves. On a bad day, I’ll have a good cry, maybe take a nap, or reach out to a woman in my circle to express my fear. Odds are, she’ll have exactly the right words to talk me down. (See: Barbara, who is on the same emotional schedule as I am, it seems. She always knows how to pull me out of the ditch).
What would your favorite day look like?
My favorite day would be to wake up with the sun, to make some hot tea and a couple eggs, to seed in the greenhouse for an hour and then to have a leisurely day with my family and friends. Perhaps, in the afternoon, walk into the field and pick some food for dinner, or to go to lake and swim and sleep out in the sun, but to be outdoors with the people I love.
What does your future self want you to remember/know?
I would love to remember that the work/play balance is a necessary part of being happy and alive. I want to remember not to panic, that slow growth is a great thing, and that making time for friends and for love is not only allowed, but encouraged.
What is your morning ritual?
For me, it depends on the season. Right now I catch myself waking up with the sun or the first birds. I wake, dress and head over to my store for early morning chicken visits and chores, and then I mosey over to my greenhouse and fields (which are conveniently at my parents’ house), have coffee with my mom, make some breakfast and plan the rest of my day. I used to feel strange, like I was suffering from arrested development by wanting to see her every morning, but this ritual suits me, allows me to begin my day in my biggest place of growth, with the reward of returning to my own home after a day of satisfying work.
What books were life changing for you?
The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
On Writing - Stephen King
View from the Cheap Seats - Neil Gaiman
Pretty much anything Francesca Lia Block ever wrote
What are you working on now that thrills you the most?
It’s spring, so I’m just beginning my growing season. Waking up and knowing I get to spend my day planting seeds and planting plants is an almost inexplicable thrill. Also, I am slowly, slowly, starting to pull together some essays I’ve written over the last ten years. Even sitting down to write a blog post, coupled with the fever of spring, is such an incredible rush of joy and excitement.
Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” ― David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
What would others be surprised to know about you?
I think others would be surprised at the level of self-consciousness I can feel at any given time. I’ve been working on it for years, but it still pops up when I’m feeling run down. Also, I go through stints, particularly in winter, of this deep, aching disillusionment. I know it’s going to go away with the right combination of self love, time, sun and forward movement, but I didn’t used to.
Share a “mistake/failure” that turned out to be good fortune.
I think my litany of questionable partner choices over the years have all had the silver linings. One led me to a group of farmer friends who I am incredibly close with today. One taught me how to interact with strangers, to be brave in new situations, and to grow exponentially as an extrovert. One sort reigned me in geographically so that I sought out ways to run my business with less travel. Each one of these relationships was pretty toxic in turns of the romance, but moved me toward the life I am incredibly grateful for. I’ve also listened to others when I knew their input didn’t jive with me, simply because they seemed to have a more successful business than mine. Listen to yourself first, always.
Also, I spent a long time feeling too self conscious/proud/stubborn to ask for help. I’ve put myself out and made a lot more work for myself because I couldn’t physically say the phrase, “Could you help me with this?” Being able to admit to wanting a hand is an incredibly empowering act. Never forget that.
Thank you, Liz, for taking the time to share your wisdom with us!