...is a beautiful site written by two Northern womenfolk by the names of Olivia Dropps and Claire Campbell. Born in the pursuit of capturing that ongoing exploration, they write for modern women looking to deepen their connection with the wisdom of the land, the wisdom of our collective grandmothers and the wisdom that lives inside of us all. They talk about raising kids, tomatoes, turkeys and flowers. About DIY cleaning supplies, bath products, moon cycles and preserving a harvest. Through regular field trips to farms, homesteads and gardens, they ask questions about these lifestyles and better understand the philosophies and work required behind them. Claire and Olivia are here to investigate the grounded modern women of today.
Talk about the beginnings of Tootie & Dotes. What inspired you begin this endeavor? Where did the name come from?
a. Short answer is we wanted to help make more farmers while inspiring anyone who would listen with the stories of our local producers doing incredible work that blew our minds on a regular basis. The people working to save our honey bees running urban apiaries, the educators and growers spreading the seed of permaculture certainly inspired us from the very beginning.
We met during an urban farming certification program after leaving our jobs at a local ad agency in 2013. Claire saw industrialized farming had a huge negative ripple effect on society and wanted to learn how to be part of a solution and Olivia was interested in becoming a farmer. It was odd that in a group of 25, we happened to both be there so we decided to have coffee.
b. The name comes from the names of our late grandmother's, Olivia’s was Tootie, and Claire’s was Dotes. Women who knew the skill-sets we were aspiring to learn. We talked a lot about this generational gap in knowledge, that it used to be passed down but that there had been a break in that, and we found ourselves on the other side. We wanted to know how to grow, preserve, survive and thrive like both Tootie and dotes did.
What are you like as individuals? Why does the partnership work?
a. Both of us have a strong desire to explore the possibilitie that come from the ground below us. We rarely are satisfied by just reading and observing and are constantly trying to find ways to get our hands dirty. Olivia more recently taking this to the next level by purchasing a small farm outside Stillwater Minnesota. She will happily describe herself as an urban farmer despite the lack of city noise drumming at her doorstep. Claire is a researcher and dreamer at heart with a background in brand strategy, and consumer insights. This ‘researcher’ lens plays a big role because it’s driven by genuine curiosity. How does this work? What are the joys and issues behind the scenes? What connects with people and why? She’s also become the main photographer on the site this year, shooting farm tours and field trips, garden happenings and stock photos for social media. She comes up with larger brand ideas and Olivia helps translate those to reality using her background in design and marketing.
b. While we work together on most pieces, we also allow each other creative freedom to head up different initiatives or interviews on the site. Because this is a labor of love and it’s just the two of us, we try to be patient with the pace of life. We have somewhat limited time to dedicate to this endeavor so communication is key. We tag team where needed and try to be honest about how we’re feeling about the direction of the content. Without that, I think we’d be lost. Especially now that Claire lives in the city and Olivia moved to the country. We both try to cover what we care and are curious about.
c. We also collaborate with illustrators, Ashley Barlow and Rachel Rolseth, who help us bring boring textbook info to life through watercolors, illustrations and flipbooks. We’ve gotten branding help from Sean O’Brian as well.
What do you love about storytelling?
a. When you look at human history, you can see that we are really storytelling animals. The stories we tell determine how we live in that current reality. It was important to us to start telling real, non-commercialized stories about real people making a difference, today, so that we have more clear examples of positive, life giving role models. So many of our stories now focus on consumerism, fear, greed, ego, etc. We wanted to tell stories that were about the environment, the pests, the weather and the people behind the scenes approaching life with genuine love, thought and dedication. We wanted to tell the stories of the brave individuals who decided to dedicate their lives to protecting and sustaining life, not only for themselves, but also for their families and future generations to come.
Why do you have the three categories on your site. What range of subject does that afford you?
a. We think about it in tiers. The field trips allow us to get a sense for the bigger picture of farming – and we use the word ‘bigger’ lightly because actually we’re focusing on small to medium sized farms with a clear mission rather than the large industrialized monoculture farms. We also wanted to show what was going on in our own gardens and the questions we came up against when first starting, like what is the difference between an annual and perennial? And what part of the bee actually collects pollen? Or when should I pull my onions and garlic? Growing your food or buying it from great local sources is only half the battle. It doesn’t do you much good to have a great source of food if you don’t know how to cook, process or preserve it. So we wanted to tackle some of that side of things as well. To us, this is more of a complete picture of gardening/farming. Not only using the produce in a productive way, but also knowing how to dispose of it so it becomes nutrients for plants in future years. Everything is connected and everything flows in a cycle. This is what we’re trying to illustrate on the site.
Do you feel like this blog contributes to something bigger than yourself
a. Yes. We hope so at least. We wanted to be one more voice in an ever-growing conversation about our food, our livelihoods, and our need for collective re-skilling and present it in a way that could connect with a wider audience. Our content is highly visual because we want to reach the widest amount of viewers and saw that a lot of content in these fields can lean toward the less visual and academic.
b. It’s also bigger than ourselves because we’re impacting the people around us. We’re using our lives as an example. In the 2 years since we started neither one of us has returned to a desk job. I think for us this is partly about proving that it is possible to live in your truth and still survive, if you’re willing to do what’s needed to make that happen. Scale down your expenses, do/make it instead of buying and develop a more resilient mindset.
What do you see for the future of Tootie & Dotes?
a. This is a big question! We are looking forward to exploring new and exciting ways to help our readers grow this year. This means the possibility of a book while expanding our contributors and creative team.
We’re been approached about consulting for farm to table restaurants, we’ve been talking about starting a local organic flower operation, and we’ve thought about hosting events and tours. One of the things we noticed early on is that while a lot of the men get published and are out there speaking about the future of farming, the women are actually getting their hands dirty and doing it. Women posses so much important wisdom and knowledge that can often get lost or overshadowed in a male dominated culture. We’re trying to understand what it means to embrace being a woman, while actually doing it at the same time. And whatever learnings we may have along the way–we’re hoping to share more of them.
b. At the end of the day, we produce content. Content aimed at inspiring and educating people who want to learn more about their food, the land and themselves.
Why is local important?
a. Local is important because it’s what you can impact and what impacts you. We need to be more connected to where our foods and products come from because the scale of environmental devastation from not thinking about those things is catching up with us, big time. If we want to have a shot at sustainable and healthy human communities in the future, we need to turn our attention inwards and towards our local communities.
How has living in Minnesota influenced your creative work, specifically through t&d?
a. I think Minnesota breeds a type of person who is hardworking, driven, creative and humble. Farmers and farmland have had an impact on us since we were children, and their hard work ethic and ability to flow with the seasons has inspired us to embody the same qualities.
How has the t&d journey influenced you as a person?
b. I think for both of us it’s been an opportunity to grow as people. Not only in our understanding of the land, seasons, cycles and how everything is connected, but also how we’re connected to all of it. That nature is not this thing that’s outside of us, but rather fully alive within us and the more it seems you walk towards that truth, the more fulfilling and alive your life becomes.