Women of Virtue: Johanna Bystrom, Farm & Hospitality Operations Manager

In honor of Women’s History Month this March, we are featuring some of the women who make up Virtue Cider. These women work in production, commercial, and farming operations; all are a part of every glass of Virtue Cider. Take a moment to learn a bit about what they all do, and if you see any of them at Virtue, please say hello! Here is Johanna Bystrom, our farm and hospitality operations manager.

Johanna Bystrom, Farm & Hospitality Operations Manager

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How long have you been at Virtue Cider and what is your role? 

4 years, Farm & Hospitality Operations Manager

What is your background? 

I was born in Jacksonville, FL, and my parents moved around due to my dad being in the Navy until I was 7 years old when we settled in Holland, MI.  We lived in a farmhouse on Blue Star Highway, my dad had a major green thumb and became a Master Gardener after he mistakenly made wildflower arrangements with goldenrod one August and had us all wheezing indoors/outdoors. We learned early from him the importance of identifying the plant world around us. He taught us how to garden, we lived off the produce, whined about weeding, but ultimately loved what the land could give us. When I graduated I moved to Upstate New York, and worked for a small touring dance company, performing and teaching through grant funded programming.  I continued growing food, making friends with farmers, and did the whole barista/serving thing. All the while food and health were a huge part of being a dancer,  ultimately my reading in that department lead me to the realization that I just wanted to farm. So after 4 years with the dance thing (and after I read The Dirty Life by Kristen Kimball), I went to work at a Common Thread CSA in Madison County…and while everyone in my prior art circle looked at me confused, I thought the transition from one physical line of work to another made a lot of sense. I eventually decided I wanted to be back in Southwest Michigan to pursue more farming. It’s seasonal work so I started, found jobs in food (baking, serving, garde manger, you name an element of food service, I’ve done it.),  and started independently curating pop-up markets (inspired by makers and food growers) in the off-season that were well attended.  All this hustle allowed me to buy a flock of sheep and start a small farming project called Garlic + Sheep. I ultimately landed my current position at Virtue Cider through hosting a successful pop-up event at Virtue. I’ve always enjoyed working closely with people/companies that believe in sourcing food locally and ethically so Virtue was the dream fit. Now I do the grounds planning for Virtue’s 48 acres, and organize guest experiences here, the sheep are also mow the grasslands there, we love it. 

What do you like about working at Virtue Cider? 

I was a consumer before I worked here. I loved the people there, I loved that they bought apples from Southwest Michigan farmers, I loved the open bins of apples and the taste of barrel in my drink. Those are all still things I love, but now I also love the property and the trees and the pigs, and all the bachelorettes that come here in the summertime. It is one of the only places in Michigan that reminds of me Upstate New York, plus it has old European charms thanks to Greg for making it easy to experience world travel without ever leaving. I get to think creatively, solve problems, improve soil and environment, educated consumers and work with farmers. Major wins.

About being a woman in your industry: 

My friend Leah and I just started a group for farming females in Western Michigan. We did this because of how many times she and I would talk often about feeling lonely in rural communities, or in urban communities doing the work we do.  When you  farm, it turns on the light for intentional slow living and it’s hard to un-see that, but it doesn’t always seem like the easiest way to live. There are still many gaps in general social education on the subject, and still a lot of varying opinions based on where you live. Also: Someone who works with the land is still predominantly assumed to be male. I have experienced it as have other women in my field, that a man shows up looking for “the manager” and when I step up the response is, “who’s your boss?” or “Wow, you really know how to get around on that tractor, don’t you?,” or I get called “Boss Lady” instead of just “Boss.”  When I worked the farm stands in New York, I’d try to look as dirty as possible so I wouldn’t get asked who the farmer was. So I think we wanted to commiserate over ways we can support each other, as well as gain patience for long road of development we all still have ahead of us.

What’s your favorite cider? 

Lapinette e’eryday, e’erybody.

Fun fact:

 The most random piece of knowledge I know is that the moonwalk is a mime technique (because of art training). My favorite books to read when I was ten were animal science and veterinarian text books that my mom found for me at the thrift store. Currently reading The First Bad Man by Miranda July.

Stay tuned for our next installment of Women of Virtue! International Women’s Day is March 8.