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How to Grow a Business (or Anything) From Dirt

I am obsessed with women’s business models—and the feminine principles that guide them.

So it’s not surprising that I’m obsessed with Growing Floret.

If you don’t know what Floret is, rest assured I didn’t either until last week. But it’s one of those things that once you know it, you can’t un-know it—like when that little girl in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe discovers the magical land of Narnia she can get to through the back of the closet.

Floret is my Narnia.

Stumbling on Growing Floret last week took me down a rabbit hole—the kind you know is more than just a mere distraction, but is a through-line leading you somewhere specific.

Where was it leading me? To the healing power of color and beauty and artistry…to industry that is based on community and built with feminine principles…to the courage of women to lead us into the unknown…but ultimately? To the power of soil to grow good things—if it’s alive.

How is it we forget so often to look down at our feet—and then consider what’s underneath it, holding us?

Are we so dazzled by our occupation with vision, forward progress and commerce that we forget to be present to the raw power of organic matter?

Has COVID and the great disruption it created blown out the back of a wardrobe we’ve all been crammed into—revealing an entirely new land of Narnia that was right there all along..if you believed it was real?

I believe in things that a lot of people don’t see as real—or alive. Like dirt.

I know I’m not alone in this–I hear my clients talk about it all the time…that itch to get in the dirt, be it gardening, hiking or even building something outside like a deck, a stone wall or a fire pit. Women are craving getting in the dirt now more than ever.

I have always love the dirt. Even as an adult, I love the swirl of brown that gathers around my feet in the shower after a full day spent outside in August. Anyone who knows me well will tell you I am often shoeless, so dirty feet is a measure of my happiness.

In 2019, my husband and I decided to build a small off-the-grid “shabin” (a bit bigger than a shed, but not quite a cabin…) on the back 40 acres of the potato farm he grew up on. We wanted to do it ourselves—nothing fancy, no electric, no plumbing—just four insulated walls, lots of windows for light no matter what the season, and his parents’ old wood burning stove (we’ve named her Gertie) to take the chill off when we need it.

We wanted to build it with our boys before they left home for other lands. We wanted to have a place that would give us a reason to get off the beaten path and play in the dirt and woods every now and then. We jokingly referred to it as our “escape hatch”. And then five months after we finished building it the pandemic hit, and it wasn’t a joke anymore. That escape we had built from scratch with our own eight hands kept us sane—and still does.

There was this moment, though, in the construction process when I did something weird and wild up there. There was this really big pile of dirt as a result of digging the 12×18 shallow hole for the shale pad the cabin would eventually sit on. Without really thinking about it, I started trucking wheelbarrows of dirt into another pile—which I eventually formed into a circle and then spent the afternoon tamping it down with my feet, surrounding it with big stones, one for each of the four directions. I called it “my witches’ circle”. As in plural, not just one.

I had no idea what I was doing and I knew exactly what I was doing.

That circle I created is sacred and even my boys knew it. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s powerful. Nothing in particular happens in that circle (although I had lofty intentions of rituals) but it’s become a placeholder of something that matters deeply.

It wasn’t until I watched Glowing Floret (something I discovered by watching Marie Forleo’s interview with Erin Benzakein, Floret’s owner) that it finally clicked for me why my witches’ circle is so important:

All life begins with good soil. That circle of dirt is my reminder.

Reminder of what you ask? A lot. Everything, actually.

  • Being a steward of the earth.
  • Being a steward of my woman’s body.
  • Tending to my soil on a regular basis—which puts a whole new organic spin on the very clinical (and commercial) phrase of “self-care”, doesn’t it?
  • Paying attention and holding space for the fertile void.
  • Patience to believe in something that has not yet emerged.
  • Discipline to not give up when there isn’t color and bloom—or other “proof” of life.
  • Expanded definitions for “being productive” (presence, witnessing, space-holding) that make a difference.
  • Renewed appreciation for the power of root systems and the underland.

There is this scene in Growing Floret where Erin squats down in the middle of twenty acres of farmland she bought with her husband, and looks in horror as she realizes the soil they bought wasn’t alive—nothing was growing or living in it because it was essentially dead. “Worms can’t even live in it”, she said.

Then she stood up and said something like, “We know what to do to bring life back, but it will take time and money.”

It all begins with the soil—the ground beneath our feet—and nourishing it back to health so it can sustain life for us.

Later that day, I stumbled on the concept of “underland” thanks to a friend who texted me a link to an On Being interview with Robert MacFarlane, who wrote a book about how his fascination with ascent (and mountains) has now morphed into one about decent (and caves).

He refers to the world beneath our feet as underland.

“Into the underland we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save.”

—Robert MacFarlane—

Listening to this podcast, I experienced that same sensation I had in watching Growing Floret—I felt like I was following a through-line in the dark, eyes closed, but definitely tracking a scent that was leading me forward.

I thought of the feminine—and all that we (men and women) have buried that is now rising back up through our soil, into our consciousness.

And then? Quite randomly, I stumbled on another interview, this one with Glennon Doyle, who talks about how the actual Greek meaning of the word apocalypse is “an uncovering”, and not the one we’re taught to fear (a catastrophe).

Let me repeat that: An Apocalypse = An Uncovering.

That blew my mind—and yet, feels entirely predictable—that we would be trained to fear death from something which is so organic and natural.

Isn’t that what birth is—our first uncovering? No wonder we never talk about vaginas (but that’s a post for another time…)

Are you seeing this thread with me? Our soil. Our underland. The feminine we buried. This great uncovering that’s happening right now?

And are you also seeing how women are helping to uncover it for us by taking a stand in their various fields?

I finally made the connection between a witches’ circle that I made out of dirt up north to the work I have been doing with senior leaders and business owners all over the country for nearly two decades.

I have been helping to grow an entirely new crop of different leaders—and my primarily work is to help them nourish their soil.

And it’s not just me and my clients—it’s happening everywhere.

  • think of Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles taking a stand at the Olympics for mental health by saying no more.
  • think of Margaret Wheatley writing about our “myth of progress” and how the call to lead us as we descend is to transcend, not transform.
  • think of Greta Thunberg and her tireless insistence that panic is a more appropriate response than hope to the environmental crisis we’ve created.
  • think of Erin Benzakein and her belief in the power of local communities to grow global businesses that are profitable and live in harmony with nature.

I’m starting to identify with these women more and more—as activists, sure, but also as farmers in that we are all working to nourish the toxic soil, plant different seeds of awareness, and grow and harvest and entirely new crop of leaders.

I’ve never really thought of myself as a farmer before, but when I consider my love of dirt, the witches’ circle I built, and my tireless commitment to growing women leaders for the past fifteen years at SheChanges, it’s all starting to make sense.

So when it all starts to feel hard and you’re wondering if you’re alone or crazy to feel the way you feel or want what you want—close your eyes and think of all the women around the world taking a stand in their fields at this moment in time. Know that you’re not alone. We are here with you, taking a stand.

And on the worst of days–maybe even on the best of days—know that there is a loamy circle of dirt that I’m standing on up north, thinking about you—and our power to grow something from nothing.

Standing is what happens after the rising.


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