Insights from the Incredibly Hardworking Women of 2019

Every year I’m lucky to spend time with hard working women across the globe. I get to see where they work and learn why they love what they do. Without fail, each woman has something important to share. Here are a few of my favorite moments from 2019.

Brewers Fenna van Strien and Tessel de Heij

Advice from Brewer Tessel de Heij to Starting Your Own Beer Company:

  • Just start brewing and you will be motivated by all the positive reactions from the people around you!
  • Write everything down very carefully.
  • Clean Clean Clean! One bacteria can destroy your beer.
  • It is important to be able to share your successes and failures, so bring at least 1 partner into your business.
  • The people you hire are your most important asset.
  • It is really, really hard work, so you HAVE to like what you do, otherwise you won’t be able to keep going.

Mijs and Runa van de Griek, Amsterdam Houseboat Residents

“We think Amsterdam cannot be without houseboats. It’s part of the scenery. Most of the people who live on a boat are handy people, who are kind and would love to help each other. We are a bit more independent than people who live in a ‘normal’ house, because we need to do more things.

My grandfather taught me how to build things with wood. My father taught me how electricity works and what you can do with that. And I’m a bit handy myself, so I don’t really ask people to come and make stuff at our ship, I just do it myself. I built us a cupboard. I wanted to have more light in our ship, so I’ve taken the jigsaw one day and sat on our roof and sawed two large windows in our roof. We also wanted a fireplace, so we made that ourselves as well. I’m used to fix things myself and don’t ask for help, and I kinda like that.” -Mijs van de Griek

Mother-Daughter Ironworkers, Carolina and Kat in Seattle

Ironworker Carolina Taylor’s Advice for Aspiring Tradespeople:

  • take good care of yourself
  • spend quality time with your family
  • continue making goals to achieve the next positions as a union member (ie: business agent, organizer, union president, apprenticeship instructor, coordinator)
  • be a dream-chaser, goal-reacher, and butt-kicker

Woodcarver Silje Loa

“If you want to become a carver, get carving. Looking at carvings at museums and in historical buildings is amazing inspiration and can even give you an understanding of how they were made, but really just find a piece of wood, a chisel and begin.” -Woodcarver Silje Loa

Stone Carver Miriam Johnson

“Creating something so permanent in the world is such a satisfying thing to do, and to have the chance, as I often do, to work on historic buildings is such an honour. Things that I have made with my hands will live on long past me. To be part of a trade that is so old, using methods that have not changed that much in hundreds of years is something that is wonderful. I also feel really lucky to have a job that could take me anywhere in the world, there is so much to explore!

It isn’t all rosy though. I can often work in pretty harsh environments, using an angle grinder all day, having to wear masks, goggles, gloves etc. Often I work outside, I’ve worked in snow, and sleet, and rain. Working in awkward places high up on scaffolding, lifting heavy loads, and working long hours.” -Stone Carver Miriam Johnson

Woodcarver Zeinab Harding

“Learning a traditional skill is a continual learning process. The more mistakes you make the more you will learn!” -Woodcarver Zeinab Harding

Stone Carver Sue Aperghis

“In my career when I first started, I tried to hide the fact I was dyslexic but I came to realize (and I would suggest it to others) that you should embrace the things that you find most challenging, and work hard and smart to get round your difficulties. Maybe try a different angle on how to learn. The most successful things I’ve done in art is when I confront my Demons the most.” -Stone Carver Sue Aperghis

Rachael Messner of Messner Bee Farm

Rachael’s Advice for Running a Small Business:

  • Work for other small businesses first. Most of it is not glorious work. It is moping the floors, crunching numbers, and getting stung. Before running the Bee Farm, I worked for 6 small businesses and I got to see behind the scenes. I’m grateful for the experience so I had the right expectations.
  • The transition that made us happiest was moving the business out of our actual house. It’s so nice to have a place to retreat to for rest. If it’s not possible to move your business out of the home, try to put it in its own space. It’s exhausting to feel like you’re always at home and always at work.

Helena from Happy Acre Farm

“It’s a lot of hard and dirty work, early mornings, late nights, and learning curves. We don’t get off the farm much during the season, unless you count doing farmers markets, and our date nights are usually spent in the fields with leftovers and a cold beer. But it’s worth every moment, to do something we’re both truly passionate about, and we’re excited to watch our family grow and raise our children to follow their own path, wherever it may lead.” -Helena of Happy Acre Farm

Farmer Nikolette Barnes

The best part of my work is being surrounded by the next generation of food revolutionaries! I absolutely am blessed to be able to teach the babies how to grow, cook, and love the food that they grew for themselves. I also love completely transforming the mindset of someone who didn’t think they could grow food or enjoy fresh vegetables. It’s pretty rewarding.

The most challenging part of my work is dispelling the myths and breaking down the walls that result from misinformation about healthy eating and agriculture. It’s also very difficult to do this work while actively fighting against the system of oppression that creates tangible barriers to families having access to fresh locally grown food.” -Nikolette Barnes of Keep Growing Detroit

Anita Singh, Youth Programs Coordinator at Keep Growing Detroit

Drawing from her background as a high school science teacher, she runs the farm education program. Anita has developed youth programs in many different cities, including Cartegena, Columbia.

Lindsay Pielack is a Co-Director of Keep Growing Detroit

“I would recommend that everyone, young or old, try their hand at growing something. You don’t have to commit to growing all your own food, just get connected to where your food comes from. There are lots of ways to do this, as simply as starting a container of herbs in your window or volunteering at a garden or farm near you.” -Lindsay Pielack of Keep Growing Detroit

Imani S. Foster, Farmers’ Market Coordinator at Keep Growing Detroit

“The food a person sustainably grows is so much better than what’s bought in the supermarkets. Placing your hands in the soil is healing. A person can reestablish relations with family and friends by working together…

One of the best parts of my work is helping the small gardener earn capital. Of course, I love that our customer base continues to grow. There is something so exciting about folks coming to the table and sharing how glad they are that we are back for the season. I know that the work I’m doing as the Grown in Detroit Market coordinator is retooling the culture that this is their (the gardeners’) business to grow.” -Imani Foster of Keep Growing Detroit

Molly Hubbell, Farm Operations Coordinator at Keep Growing Detroit

Farmers don’t have superpowers, we rely on intuition. That intuition comes with time and patience, and can be learned by anyone willing to put the time in.” -Molly Hubbell of Keep Growing Detroit

Lola Kristi Gibson-Berg, Community Education Coordinator at Keep Growing Detroit

“Farming makes me feel hopeful. It’s a privilege to be connected to a community of people in the city who know how to grow food, enjoy doing so, and are cultivating and growing their communities.” -Lola Kristi Gibson-Berg of Keep Growing Detroit

Crane Operator Apprentice, Jessica Knight

“I do not keep my head down. I make others know my presence at work. I befriend my coworkers of all trades. We are here for one common goal: finish the job and go home safely.

Never be afraid to look at any piece of equipment and say, ‘Yeah, I want to learn this!’ Give ‘em hell ladies!” -Jessica Knight

Operating Engineer Elizabeth Kavanagh

I think any young woman that wants to get in the trades should go for it. You can always change what you do. If you think you are interested, give it a shot. You can’t tell if you like it or not if you don’t try.

Being in a union is a good thing. They will have your back. Also, I joined when I was 20, so I started getting benefits and started my pension before most people my age. Sometimes it is hard work, but it can be very rewarding in the future.” -Elizabeth Kavanagh

Operating Engineer Ashley O’Grady

“I went through the operators apprenticeship program. The training from that gave me the confidence and skills I needed to be successful in the field. I have found support in all my brothers and sisters I’ve met through my union… I feel a great sense of pride when I get to see the finished product, knowing I played a big role helping build it.” -Ashley O’Grady

Operating Engineer Christi Smith

“You work with a lot of great people on great jobs. And you always have a support system. The union takes care of you, keeping up to date with technology and providing a place where you can improve your skills. You’re a part of a group of people who are proud of their work and what they do.” -Christi Smith

Operating Engineer Danielle Athey

“In one year, I see myself getting close to graduating the apprenticeship and eventually becoming a journeyman. In five years, I see myself traveling the country with my work. In ten years, I hope by then I have my own house and property…

My advice is don’t be afraid of anything. Have confidence and don’t ever think you can’t ask for help. The support from my coworkers helped me more than anything.” -Danielle Athey

Operating Engineer La’Tasha Smith

“Honesty, I never had any interest in the trades. I went to a career fair and one of the female coordinators approached me and was able to convince me to give it a shot.

I was 28 and broken—lost, homeless, and defeated!! Life had run me over with a truck and backed up to finish the job!! I felt hopeless. So I told her that there was no way I’d ever make it into that career, especially with no experience!! But she was convinced I could, and I actually did!

The training is very intimidating and fast paced. The obstacles I faced were being able to quickly adapt to the new career culture which is made up of predominantly males, learning new machines quickly and safely, remembering all the rules and regulations, schedule changes, and weather conditions affecting work.” -La’Tasha Smith

Farmer and Woodworker Brit McCoy

“Working with family is incredibly rewarding. You’re working looking towards the same goal, the same future and are focused on the same dream. However, it does have some challenges when the family doesn’t see exactly eye-to-eye.

Urban wood is an incredibly beautiful way to share our stories with future generations. The urban trees we use in our shop have incredible ties to family stories and we love helping other families let their stories live on through fine furniture. We are honored to be a part of that process, tree to table.” -Brit McCoy

Sheep Breeder Rebecca Krinsky

“First time sheep owners should seek out information from current breeders to help find the right breed for them. Different breeds require different housing, grooming, and feeding routines. No two breeds are exactly the same. If you do your research, there will be one breed that will fit your personality, needs, and wants better than the others. If you pick the right one to start out with, you will be hooked and possibly find other breeds to connect with over time.” -Rebecca Krinsky of Slack Farms

Thanks for following along with us. I can’t wait to introduce you to even more hard working women in 2020.