Step outside. Take a big, big deep breath of the rich, cold air and consider this seriously but simply: We can always be doing more.
Ahhhhh. Infinitely and always.
It was 48 degrees and overcast on the day I met Claire Campbell and Olivia Dropps outside of the Twin Cities.
So many leaves had already fallen by then. It smelled like snow, and the wind wasn’t holding back. Earth was preparing herself for winter, and with even a glance of the recent Harvest Moon and the bright oranges fading to brown, it was clear I should be, too.
My time with Claire and Olivia is resonating with me still, because everything around me reminds me of their energy. As the sun rises, when the moon changes, when I pick apples with my son or cover plants before going in for the night, I’m reminded of their message: We are more connected to the earth than we realize, and how well we nourish and consider this connection will only enrich our time here. For as full as our lives are, consciousness of the land we live on matters more, and Claire and Olivia care enough to help you see that, too.
Through seeking out and celebrating urban farmers in the region, their passion is simple: Build awareness, and live a life of respect for this beautiful and mighty earth.
And it’s really meaningful work.
“There’s nothing else I want to do,” Olivia says. “I want to be outside in the dirt and growing things. To me, it’s the most basic thing you can do that makes you feel human and connects you to the outdoors.”
For Claire, the realization came in like a lion, but it was as clear as could be.
“I’m a human,” she says. “I live on this planet. I don’t know how to grow food. I feel silly. I’m going to go learn how. That was my thought process. If anything bad happens, I’m not going to survive. I really need to learn how to grow food and learn about plant ecosystems!”
And so they did.
This learning process is called Tootie & Dotes, a website named after their late grandmothers.
“What we admired in our grandmothers is their strength. And that’s what we’re coming back to,” Claire says. “Women are the ones who really make these ripples. I feel like really strong women have been sleeping for a long time and there’s just this waking up!
“It’s why we started this.”
Two years ago, they set forth to build a platform that’s twofold. It would be a place for them to share stories of farmers and producers and artisans they were interested in, but it would also be a place where they would learn from those people and candidly share that educational experience along the way.
“We really just had this tug in our hearts to learn how our grandmothers did it,” Olivia says. “Our food system today is totally broken and is affecting everything. It’s destroying our environment, and Claire and I both felt compelled to do something. We also both have this huge connection to our land and to nature and what we’re eating, and I think we both knew that slow food meant better quality, better taste, better health, better lives for the farmers and producers.
“And we really want to support them and tell their story.”
Let’s join the journey!
Olivia and Claire’s work stands out, because their passion for what they do is seamlessly integrated into their lives. There is no separation, rather a cyclical respect for the land around them and their work. The way they live their lives is their work, and vice versa.
“This work makes us feel human,” Olivia says. “In order to take care of myself, I have to take care of the soil around me.”
Their pursuit of the earth is so alive inside them — it’s crucial, really — but they share that passion gently and calmly, beautifully and fun. Fear won’t get us there, but perhaps charming stories that spark encouragement will.
“We feel this way, but our content is actually a lot lighter,” Claire says. “The website is a creative outlet for both of us, a repository of things we’re interested in, things we’re talking about, things we’re processing.”
And it’s an adventure for anyone who stops by.
“We wanted to produce a farm-to-table dining experience on our website so people can see where their food is coming from,” Olivia says. “Who are these farmers? Maybe they’ll feel inspired to become a farmer, maybe be educated to grow more in their backyard. That is the heart of the website.”
And it’s a group effort. “The tone were going for,” Olivia says, “is that we’re learning with you!”
To do that, Olivia and her husband recently built a farm house on 10 acres of land outside Stillwater, Minnesota. Surrounded by organic hay and alfalfa and a pond out back, they intend to continue their education there — raising flowers and pigs and building a hoop house.
It’s all on its way. And through Tootie & Dotes, we get to be a part of it.
“Anything that we’re really excited about,” Olivia says, “we want to share with other people.”
It all began at an urban farming class
It’s no wonder that Claire and Olivia are making something great together today. Before Tootie & Dotes, the two worked at the same advertising agency in Minneapolis, and after they both left the agency in 2013, they met again while participating in an urban farming certification program through the Permaculture Research Institute.
It was a nine-month program they pursued both out of concern for our ever-growing consumer culture and out of curiosity.
Olivia wanted to become more engaged in agriculture. “Could I have some kind of farming practice that could be a profession and that could sustain us?”
As for Claire, in the first class alone, she knew she would benefit from the program.
“While talking about permaculture and what it means, I was tearing up through the whole class,” she admits. “I was emotional! We were all a really diverse mix of people yet coming to this place of consciousness and concern from all different backgrounds and skill sets.”
So, what does permaculture mean? It’s about working with nature, not against it — a system of agriculture “that focuses on creating symbiotic relationships between people, plants, pests and our soil,” Claire says.
“In monoculture, everything is the same, and you’re super susceptible to collapse. But what makes an ecosystem healthy is diversity of perspective, diversity of root system, and they work together.”
This understanding is present in everything Tootie & Dotes has to offer.
“We’re actually connected to nature,” Claire says. “Humans are part of the ecosystem, not above it. What we do impacts it!
“This is how humans are supposed to live,” she continues. “We’ve all believed in this story for the past 200 years about the economy and structure and jobs, and the reality is that when you jump back to even before our grandmothers, they were living in balance with the planet.”
Olivia and Claire’s passion is to help us get back there, but they don’t expect big leaps. “We just want you to be a little more aware,” Olivia says.
For example, “when you’re gardening, you’re humbled every year,” Claire says. “But it’s really good to be that close to the earth and humbled by your place in it. You can’t control the rain or the droughts, but you can learn from it.”
A personal story
As Olivia and Claire continue to grow this work, they intend to tell their own stories, but that narrative takes time, because they’re learning, too, remember?
“I think it’s hard to be vulnerable when you haven’t processed the vulnerability yourself,” Claire says. “But now that we’ve had some experience and a better understanding of what our content is and what our lifestyles are, I feel better equipped to start writing those pieces — as both a reflection and encouragement for our readers, too.”
“The stories are getting more personal,” Olivia says. “And whenever we do take a risk and tell a more personal story, people respond to that.”
Claire agrees. “When we started out, we had this mentality of holding a frame for these other farmers and producers. Purposely, it wasn’t about us. We named the blog Tootie & Dotes because not only did it connect to our grandmothers, but it still was something personal without being about us. It just didn’t feel like we knew enough about that community yet.”
Now, with dirt on their knees and acres to raise, they’re getting there. To not only a place of building strong relationships with urban farmers in the region, but to a place where they can call themselves one, too.
What about you?
Step outside. Take a big, big deep breath of the rich, cold air and consider it simply: What can you do today?