Sonoma County farm women find fun in unity

  • Rural Chicks group members Anne Coughlin, left, Heidi Harris, Deborah Walton, Kate Hendricks, Stephanie Callimanis, Diana Callimanis and Barbara Rybicki meet up for an afternoon of fun at Rancho Nicasio on Sunday afternoon, August 5, 2012.

Bankers and mortgage brokers can network and commiserate about interest rates at their local chamber of commerce mixer or Rotary Club dinner.

But what if you're a female farmer, working from dawn 'til dusk, with problems ranging from marauding wild pigs to the high price of hay?

Sonoma County sisters of the soil — cheesemakers and alpaca farmers, grape growers and pig ranchers — now have a place to share animal tales and compost tips through a loose-knit group known as the Rural Chicks Roadhouse Roundup.

This diverse and growing group of women meets monthly at classic roadhouse restaurants in the North Bay, enjoying beers and blue-plate specials from Volpi's in Petaluma to Juanita Juanita in Sonoma.

"We dish and cuss and do things that women usually do," said Deborah Walton of Canvas Ranch in Petaluma. "But in a place where women don't usually go."

Walton hatched the idea for the Rural Chicks last fall, while having lunch at Cotati's historic Washoe House with Linda Peterson, who works with agricultural nonprofit groups.

"I said, &‘Wouldn't it be fun to get together, once a month, and go to these roadhouses?'" Walton said. "As farmers, we never get out to see anybody else, so we don't know what other people are doing."

The women, who range from their 20s to their 60s, come from diverse backgrounds but share a common bond: They all work really, really hard, and they all love their work and its end product — food.

"Everybody does something different. That's what makes it unique," said Karen Bianchi-Moreda, cheesemaker at the Valley Ford Cheese Co. "But our common denominator is food."

Like the definition of "rural chick" (basically, anyone with an interest in food or farming can join), the group's definition of roadhouse is open-ended, encompassing more upscale restaurants like Barndiva in Healdsburg and Cafe Citti in Kenwood.

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