Despite the summer heat, I’m sure very few of us would wish to repeat those last, long cold months of 2014. Unless you’re a maple sirup producer that is, because if you’re a maple sirup producer, there’s nothing better than a long, cold spring to keep that tree sap flowing. And no one knows that better than Mike and Debbie Funk, the 5th generation farmers and maple sirup producers at Funk’s Grove, just off of Old Route 66 near Bloomington.
Meet Denise Kilgus: mother of eight, co-owner of Living Water Farms Inc., and green-thumb extraordinaire. Throughout the year she's supplying garden-fresh greens and produce not only for her family, but to supermarkets and restaurants across Illinois. I caught up with Denise last week to find out just how she does it.
I sat down with Katie last week to ask her one very tough question. “What is a food co-op?”
According to Katie, that question is one of Green Top Grocery’s biggest challenges, as food co-ops are a relatively new idea in the Midwest and not widely understood by the general public. So Katie lays out the basics: A Food Co-op is community-owned grocery store supporting local farmers and the local economy by sourcing primarily locally grown foods from surrounding producers. It creates good jobs that pay fair wages, puts a focus on healthy people and a healthy environment, and keeps money in the community.
What’s not to love about that?
Introducing the new generation of farmer: Andy Heck, Gus Jones, and Sean Coleman.
They didn’t grow up on farms. They don’t have any interest in row crops. They don’t own any land. Heck, you won’t even find them in the countryside.
But with a budding urban farm in the heart of Springfield, they’re bringing farming back to its grass-roots, quite literally, and proving that to be a farmer, the only thing you really need is heart, a little bit of gumption, and of course, a sturdy set of overalls.
Every now and then you meet someone with the rare and wondrous capability of seeing the world for what it could be, not for what it is. Donna Oshaughnessy and Keith Parrish, owners and operators of South Pork Ranch, are those
It was a balmy 36 degrees when I met Donna- a virtual heat wave compared to the sub-zero wind chills that we’ve been experiencing for the last two months. The cows, who had resorted to huddling in the barns, were now venturing out to the pasture, the ducks and chickens and peacocks were waddling at the edge of the open barn door, the dogs were bounding across the still snowy ground, and in fact the entire farm seemed to be bustling with life. Read More
Mat Kilgus leads me out behind his store front o the barns out back. 50 curious cows turn their heads and blink as we walk by, many of them ambling up to the fence for a closer lok. Are they noding their heads at us, or am Iimagining it? That’s weird, I think, it’s like they are saluting us. But then I realize it’s not me they care about, it’s Matt. And maybe they ARE saluting him.
They know they’ve got it god: a warm barn, a free place to roam, fresh grass and grain to eat, and they know Matt is a big part of the reason for that. These are the definiton of happy cows.
Susan Danenberger, in a maxi dress and snake-skin high heels, looks like she just stepped out of Vogue magazine. But don’t let the stilettos fool you, underneath that fashionable exterior, Susan is all country. Owner and operator of Danenberger Family Vineyards, Susan’s breaking the mold when it comes to farming in Central Illinois, and she’s doing at all with style.
What happens when a lifelong conventional grain farmer falls in love with a committed organic vegetable gardener?
Large-scale sustainable vegetable production, that’s what.
Debbie Flannery and Roger Bock were raised in separate worlds. She a Chicago native with a green thumb and big ideas, and he a Central Illinois farm boy with a knack for engineering. Despite their widely varying backgrounds and being on the opposite ends of two conflicting ideologies in the agriculture industry, the two are breaking ground together in a new venture that just might re-shape the way Illinois does agriculture.
“If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” That’s the quote that popped into my mind when I first met Janet, owner and overseer of CHJ-Umoja Gardens, a 4 acre plot of ground dedicated to growing white maize, amaranth, and other traditional and not-so-traditional ethnic crops. Janet is one of those people that radiates warmth. She laughs deeply and smiles often as she leads me through her towering golden corn rows, free-range chickens pecking beneath our feet and scattering out of our path.
Traci Barkley is washing stacks of bright green and white leeks when I arrive. She greets me warmly and points me to Clay who is stacking boxes of mesclun mix in the shed, tender leaves of lettuce peeking out from behind the black plastic crates. It’s business as usual for Sola Gratia Farm as they prepare for their last CSA pick-up of the season, but Sola Gratia is not your average farm, and Traci and Clay are not your average farmers.
The Suttill’s Gardens produce stall has been a staple of the Old Capitol Farmers Market for many years, and this family farm has been a Springfield classic for over one hundred years. In a 2013 interview in the Illinois Times, Ron Suttill of Suttill’s Gardens discusses how his grandmother started the farm in 1902, and that it has been family owned and operated ever since. Ron took over in the sixties from his father. I met with his daughter and granddaughter, Jacque Suttill-Simpson and Caitlyn, at the Old Capitol Farmers Market in downtown Springfield one sunny Wednesday morning. Although it was just 7:30 in the morning, Jacque and Caitlyn had already arrived and were finishing up unloading their produce for the day when I walked over.
As part of our Featured Farmer series, I had the pleasure of visiting with the Wallace family and taking a tour of their organic farm in rural Ashland, Il. I was already familiar with Oak Tree Organics, from being a resident of Ashland myself and growing up with Chad and Dana’s oldest children; daughter Amanda and son Kyle. My memories of their farm include get togethers with the most delicious food, fishing in their farm pond, camping in their nearby timber, and playing with their youngest daughter Erin when she was a toddler.
Brian Severson started driving a tractor once he was old enough to push the clutch at age 5. Today he’s raising organic sweet corn and small grains in Grundy county where his family has been farming since 1866. You might say that farming is in his blood. But when all of the farmers around him began switching to genetically modified crops, Brian started looking in a new direction.
Doug and Beth Rinkenberger may have come from very different backgrounds, but together, it’s their love for the land and the surrounding community that has grown Garden Gate Farm.
Doug is a farm boy, born and raised. He worked on his family’s dairy and grain farm for the first half of his life, went off to the University of Illinois, graduated with a degree in Agricultural Economics, and eventually took a position at Zimmerman Feed and Grain, a small family owned feed mill outside of Forrest, Illinois.
Amy Randazzo, former accountant and mother of three, is now crunching numbers in a different way. She's drawing up crop rotation plans, taking inventory, and monitoring income and expenses for her new farming venture, Grani's Acres. Staff meetings are now held with her husband and children and her new office is the hoop house they raised last year to extend their growing season. It's not a fancy skyrise in the city, but you can't beat the view. We caught up with Amy to learn a little bit more!
Mariah and Greg Anderson decided to turn their 5 acre back yard into a small garden patch for growing mums back in 2009. Today, just six years later, they have a booming business growing more than 10,000 mums, starter plants, and a variety of vegetables and providing both fresh produce and fall beauty to their surrounding community. We caught up with Mariah to learn how they do it.
"I was weeding and working soil not terribly far from my three children, and I looked over as the sun was setting and dusk was enveloping us. All three of them were lying at the top of this very tall pile of compost on their backs, looking up at the sky as it became night. They were just talking, and noticing the air and the birds and the sunset, and it was just perfect. Every kid should get the chance to lie on a big pile of dirt high above the ground and watch the sun set."
Profoundly thoughtful, inquisitive, caring. These were the words that sprang to my mind as Dustin led me through the woods by his home, pointing out garlic mustard greens that are great for foraging, talking about the cover crop he seeded onto his gardens, and of course leading me to the main attraction, the abundant autumn olive shrubs that speckle the woods. One conversation with Dustin Kelly and it won’t take long to pick up on all of these traits, but perhaps Dustin’s most unique characteristic...
Wren's Gate Garden & Studio is a small three-acre farm specializing in growing unique, uncommon and heirloom flowers. Located in Central Illinois amid vast corn fields, the gardens are bursting with flowers that reflect the season. From a hillside full of daffodils in the spring, to cheerful summer zinnias and magnificent dinner plate dahlias in the fall, they harvest and design with only the best of what is blooming each day for markets, restaurants, florists, subscriptions and events. We caught up with owner and farmer Becky Newton to learn more.
I've been helping on the farm since I was old enough to go out with dad. It has changed a lot over the years since then. My wife and I moved home and started working full time on the farm in January of 1997. Today, Jones Country Gardens is a very diverse farming operation. It started as a traditional row crop and livestock farm and in the early 1980s my parents diversified and started a 10 acre pick your own strawberry operation.
Get to know more about the local farmers and families that are growing your food. Learn how they are producing wholesome fruits and vegetables that are both good for you and for the environment; how they are raising healthy, happy animals; and where you can find their products throughout Illinois. Buy Fresh Buy Local today!