30th Annual Women’s Weekend

14 06 2009

By Emily Larson with contributions from Megan Hines

For our first event related to the Community of a Plate, we moonstone farmattended the 30th Annual Women’s Weekend at Moonstone Farm in Montevideo, Minnesota. Moonstone Farm is a grass-fed beef farm focused on sustainable practices, and has been in operation for more than a century, passed down through five generations. The weekend had no flyer, no information was available on the Web site, and no mailing was sent to invite people, so we found ourselves looking for a purpose statement, a label, some clear, defining description of what exactly it was we were going to. Was it a retreat? A meeting? A conference? How did this fit into the Community of a Plate project?

In an attempt to satiate our desire for concrete information, we emailed Audrey Arner, the co-owner of Moonstone Farm, who generously hosts the Women’s Weekend every year. Her response to our question about a schedule was: “There is no schedule of events. There are no workshops, no breakout sessions, no keynotes, no registration.” As a third party who had never experienced the Women’s Weekend before, we had no idea of what we were supposed to be documenting. Thus, we had to relinquish our urge to typify the Women’s Weekend, and enter the weekend with an open mind.

In reality, a succinct “definition” of the Women’s Weekend, or Gathering of Women, cannot be given, and if it could, it would defeat the purpose of the weekend. It is fluid, transformative, supportive, relaxed, and, of course, fun. It is an opportunity for old friends to Community of friends - by Emily Larsonreconnect with each other, and new friends to get acquainted in a caring and supportive environment. Some of the women have grown up with the Women’s Weekend as an integral part of their year, while others only started coming recently.  One woman was 29 years old, and attended each year of her life, missing only the first year. “It is only as I grow older that I realize how important this is,” she told us. She contrasted it to the “Girls’ Weekend,” which stereotypically involves shopping and material consumption. The Women’s Weekend is the opposite.  Instead of materialism, this weekend is built on love and lifelong friendships.

One thing many of these woman share is a love of farming. Sustainable farming and the values surrounding it connected many of these women years ago, and continues to draw new faces who bring unique experiences and perspectives. Reflected in the continued popularity of the Women’s Weekend, perhaps, is in the nature of farming today. One woman described the evolution: “Farming used to be a communal practice, everyone worked together and shared equipment. Then it became more individual, as people bought their own tractors, and used chemicals. It has come full circle; people want community.”  walking with the cattleWhile not all the women at the Women’s Weekend are farmers, they all celebrate the return to community. This is apparent in the table setting where all the attendees of the weekend bring a food item to share. The dishes change every hour as more women contribute the fruits of their labors to share and sustain others, just as they share a part of themselves with the women around them.

The long-running traditions of the Women’s Weekend are not stagnant; they grow and change as more women are included.  One annual tradition is the presentation of the strawberry pie. Nearly everyone that has attended the weekend before can tell when it is happening. The tradition started many years ago, when a young girl named Liz refused to share the last piece of a fresh strawberry pie with an woman older named Mim. Exaggerating her hurt for the lack of generosity, Mim exclaimed in an attempt to make Liz realize the importance of sharing with others, “One day you’ll be standing over my grave saying, ‘Mim, if you were here I would make you a strawberry pie everyday!'” Every year since, Liz, now in her late twenties, has brought a fresh strawberry pie cooked using the same recipe to Women’s Weekend to share with everyone there. We witnessed this tradition happen: the pie is presented, everyone laughs and smiles, a cackle ensues from Mim, and then everyone shares the pie by passing the pan around with two forks. As they retold the story, other women flocked over to watch the presentation and share in the joke. “We heard the cackle and came running over!” they commented when they arrived just in time for a bite of the sweet strawberry pie. Such an event, emerging from an isolated incident between two people long ago, has developed into a community tradition.

Thus the Women’s Weekend evolves and flourishes. It is not resistant to change, but the core of the weekend remains the same: love and friendship. As old friends reconnect, it could be intimidating for newcthe tableomers; rather, seasoned Weekend attendees make an effort to include everyone in a welcoming environment. The supportive atmosphere encouraged reflective, sincere, and deeply personal dialogue. Women, who hadn’t known one another an hour previous, shared and related to stories about their lives and did so without feeling threatened or judged by their peers. Thirty years after the first Women’s Weekend, the women of this community find themselves connected through the plates and commonalities of their lives, and it appears that the event will not be stopping any time soon.

To see more images from the 30th Annual Women’s Weekend, see our Flickr slideshow.