Written by Sue Wasserman Tuesday, October 02 2012
Lisa Kivirist had no idea a camping trip would change her life. If you asked her, she would have said she was content living in Chicago, building her post-college career in corporate advertising. Kivirist’s belief that she had embarked on the right career path was turned upside down, however, after she and her husband John set off on a weekend camping adventure.
“We fell in love with rural living that weekend,” Kivirist recalls. “Suddenly we were certain we needed to be in a place that stimulated our souls.”
Once they determined the where, they were certain the how and what would follow suit.
Kivirist’s first book was published on the heels of her departure from corporate America. “The idea of self-employment was still fairly new in the mid-90s,” she says. “There weren’t a lot of resources for people who chose to go against the norm. My goal was not only to provide those resources but inspiration as well.”
Sixteen years later, Kivirist continues to serve both as a resource and role model, all while living her bliss one creative adventure at a time. She sees herself as an ecopreneur, a term she and her husband coined when they co-authored “ECOpreneuring: Putting Purpose and the Planet before Profits.” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. praised the couple’s primer, designed for people who dreamed of creating their livelihood based on independence, creativity, passion and a commitment to green practices and sustainability.
Clearly, Kivirist practices what she preaches. Her livelihood is derived from a multitude of impassioned endeavors. First, there’s Inn Serendipity, the two-bedroom bed and breakfast housed on the couple’s 100-year-old working farm near Monroe, Wisc. The grounds may be historic, but, as committed stewards of the land, they incorporate sustainability whenever possible. The couple’s wind turbine and CitiCar electric car, two of the grounds’ more visible energy-efficient features, generate interest and inquiries from guests. They have also garnered praise and awards over the years from eco-tourism companies as well as environmental agencies.
Not only does Kivirist provide farm tours to interested guests, she leaves a price list in their rooms for the fresh-from-the-garden-vegetables that are available for sale. The couple proudly grows 70 percent of what her family and guests consume.
“Our guests are fantastic,” she offers. “Many of them are fantastic gardeners themselves. They leave me with book recommendations and pages and pages of notes.”
Guests and non-guests alike can purchase “Farmstead Chef,” yet another of the couple’s books that tells of their city-to-farm story, complete with tasty recipes culled from years of kitchen experimentation.
“I learned to cook when we quit our jobs and didn’t have disposable income. Not only did it allow us to save money, it helped us eat better. I think the closer you are to your food source, the better,” says Kivirist.
While she enjoys inspiring guests, Kivirist also has a penchant for educating women, helping them lay the foundations for their own ecopreneuring endeavors. As the director for the MOSES Rural Women’s project, for example, she supports women farmers and food-based enterprises, championing new business start-ups that support change in the current food system.
“There’s a 30 percent increase in the number of women-owned farms,” Kivirist says. “One Wisconsin study looked at where these women go for information. They go to other women and grassroots organizations. Food draws women in. It’s a gateway for them to start thinking about life – from what we buy, to what we eat, to creating a business. When you put a group of women in a room, things start to spark. There’s nothing more rewarding than hearing stories of guests or other people I’ve crossed paths with who have created their own ventures.”
Hoping to fan the spark into a bright flame, Kivirist has also collaborated on Women Caring for the Land, a land conservation training program offered in conjunction with the Women, Food and Agriculture Network.
“More than 50 percent of rural land is owned by women,” she says. “Our program helps provide them with the tools they need to help preserve our rural lands.”
While she’s dedicated to helping others, she also takes time to focus on her family’s adventures. Between planting and harvesting and caring for the inn’s guests, summer is a period of high stress.
“That chaos is balanced by a different rhythm in fall and winter,” she says.
Winter is when Kivirist takes time for activities such as experimenting with food in their retrofitted granary, which incorporates straw bale and active and passive solar heat. It was built with the help of friends and local energy organizations. Here, Kivirist explores the possibilities.
“Even though they’re traditionally not grown locally, we tried growing papayas one season because I like them,” she smiles.
While it calls for continual reinvention, Kivirist can’t imagine a better life.
“Too often, particularly for women, we get directed in different, practical ways. People get trapped into a job with a paycheck, thinking the only time to explore their passion is on weekends or after retirement. There’s a point when we realize it’s time to reconsider that strategy and consider how our passions can become our livelihoods. My overarching mission is to support myself and others to live authentically, continually questioning and moving forward, all in a way that leaves the world a better place.”
More inspiration for reducing your impact on the environment:
As our collective eco-consciousness grows, so does the demand for "green collar jobs," which focus on sustainability and environmentally-friendly practices.
The Sabos family takes green lving to the next level. See how they manage to only buy 5 percent of their food commercially.
The Internet allows us to share almost anything including lawnmowers and cars. Collabortive Consumption is a growing business trend that makes sense economically and environmentally.
Sue Wasserman is a freelance writer, publicist and nature photographer living near Asheville, N.C. Her passion is writing about people who are passionate about what they do. Most recently, she was the public relations manager for Heery International, a large architectural/engineering firm headquartered in Atlanta, Ga. Her freelance articles have appeared in Southern Living, The New York Times, American Style, Mountain Living, Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Atlanta Business Chronicle and more.