Interview: Grace Oedel from Dig In Farm

Dearest friends! It is my absolute joy and honor to bring to you Awake Woman Interviews, where I talk to amazing women who are making serious change happen in the world. I hope you find these interviews inspiring!

Sometimes I feel like we look for role models and inspiration far away from us, but there are awake women all around us, doing amazing work in our communities. My goal is to feature these bright souls fighting for joy and freedom. And I can't think of a better woman to kick off this series than Grace Oedel. 

We listen to loud music, use our bodies, cook good food, sing songs while we do it, and scheme, dream, and act on how to make the world a better place. We harvest fresh berries and plop them on top of ice cream on the daily. Who wouldn’t want in on that!?

Grace is one of my dear friends, and she is the director and founder of Dig In Farm, a farm in Massachusetts offering empowering farm-based education for young people. She also writes amazingly insightful pieces on her blog, and I particularly recommend these articles on exploring women's work and on raising and eating animals

Grace has worked for years in permaculture, farming, and education. She studied religious studies while at Yale, and she has worked for the Yale Sustainable Food Project, Woolman Semester, and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. She's recently moved to the Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts where she runs sustainable living skill-building programs for high schoolers, facilitates girls' empowerment groups, and cultivates a permaculture farmstead (Dig In Farm, LLC) with her husband Jacob Holzberg-Pill.

One of the things I admire most about Grace is her ability to envision a brighter world where we all live in greater communion with the world around us. When Grace speaks, I always feel a tremendous sense of hope and inspiration. And I'm so excited she's inspiring a generation of young women to feel the same.

So without further ado, here is Grace from Dig In Farm! (And if you are interested in making a direct difference in the lives of young women, check out their fundraising campaign!).

10 years ago, how would you have imagined your life right now?

Hilariously, ten years ago I wanted to go into politics! When I was younger I knew I wanted to make change, and I saw everything as a "biggest possible scale" question. Now I believe much more in the power of people, of grassroots organizing, and engendering a whole new (/old) way of living from the ground up. 

How is your reality different now?

Completely! I run an educational permaculture farm (Dig In Farm) with my husband. This year we are launching Spiral, a summer program for young women that is a permaculture design course + nature immersion + social justice + positive community building between young women. We're working on ten acres of largely forest land here, working to shift it into an productive edible forest system. 

I also lead girls empowerment groups in the Pioneer Valley. I lead farm-based spirituality classes for teens at a local synagogue. I live next door to my in-laws. I spend time every day cooking. I feel more interested in building community and being a part of a movement than anything else. 

What inspired you to start your own business? What was your greatest fear getting started? What is your greatest hope?

I was inspired to start my business because the place that I wanted to work simply didn't exist. I wanted to do education, and permaculture, and teach in a way that felt authentic. I wanted to combine big-picture thinking about justice with hands-on skills. I had always been curious about starting something myself-- in some ways the thrill of learning all those new skills and testing myself was exhilarating-- and so when I couldn't find a job I wanted, I decided to create one. 

My greatest fear is always that it will fail. That it won't attract people, that it won't be good, that it won't be solvent. I get scared I don't know enough to do it all, or that I can't figure it out. I guess fear itself has been the greatest hurdle! Being your own boss also rips away a lot of ego. If you are always saying, "If I were the boss" or "if I were in charge" and then suddenly you ARE, you suddenly hold the responsibility for making it all happen! You better crank.

My greatest hope!? That's a huge question!! I think my greatest hope would be that collectively, we create a massive worldwide revolution away from the destructive, scarcity-based economy we live with now to a regenerative, earth-and-people centered one. (And also that the young women have totally life-changing, radical experiences of connection to each other and the land this summer!) 

What do you enjoy most about your work with young women and agriculture?

It's totally inspiring and rejuvenating, and it gives me a lot of hope about the future. Young people know things! We should listen to them! Same with working with plants, growing food, listening to birdsong, making community with place. Also, this work is just so damn FUN. We listen to loud music, use our bodies, cook good food, sing songs while we do it, and scheme, dream, and act on how to make the world a better place. We harvest fresh berries and plop them on top of ice cream on the daily. Who wouldn't want in on that!?


How has your intuition helped you shape your business?

There have been moments of hard decisions already-- times when we really needed to say no to something even though we wanted on the surface to say yes. I find in these situations I can intuitively feel the right move, even when I try to rationalize my way out of it. In my core, whenever I have a deep uneasiness, it generally doesn't go away until I heed it. And it's pretty much always right! 

Another amazing thing was how intuitive planning the whole first program-- Spiral, our permaculture intensive for young women has felt. It felt more like remembering an old idea that I had known all along rather than coming up with some new scheme. This sense of returning to the idea made it feel much stronger, and is ultimately I think why the program has been successful. 

What have been the most influential books on your path?

Pretty much everything by Wendell Berry-- I most deeply love his poems "Mad Farmer Liberation Front" and "Peace of Wild Things". He wrote the line, "Be joyful though you have considered all the facts." BOOM!! 

Who are your favorite role models and inspirations? 

I love reading about far-off, inspiring folks doing incredible work, but my real role models who pop into my head all the time are teachers I have had over the years. My high school lit teacher, a religious studies professor, a science instructor-- every day people who are rockstars, living with deep compassion and rigor and so so so much passion for what they do. These are the people who I strive to emulate. 

If your soul could give one piece of advice, what would it be?

Well, the lesson I am learning right now is to relinquish control. I tend to try to control everything and stress out, and my soul is teaching me lately that I am not in control of anything-- but I am held. "The universe is conspiring to shower you with blessings," as the wonderful and zany astrologer Rob Brezny wrote. I always want to remember to express gratitude!! 

10 years from now, what do you hope to be doing?

Laughing!! I hope to have integrated having a family with work I believe in. I hope to be part of a strong community. Most important, I hope to be grateful every day!! 

There we go! If you are interested in learning more about Grace and Dig In Farm, check out their website and Facebook page. And if you are interested in making a difference in the lives of young women, check out their campaign!

Do you know an amazing woman making change in the world? Send me an email with your leads :-)