Answering the Call – Helping Farmer Vicki Who Needed Help

July 22, 2010 at 11:37 am

(Photo is from

[Editor’s Note: Through some yet undetermined computer glitch, we lost this post from last week.  We really appreciate Lindsay Bank’s report for us, and we apologize for whatever seemed to have happened, even if we are still rather confused as to what happened!]

Last week, I saw a post on Slow Food Chicago soliciting volunteers to help Genesis Growers spend the day pulling weeds.  I convinced a couple of my friends to join me on the excursion to St. Anne, IL, 70 miles south of Chicago.  Genesis Growers is run by “Farmer Vicki” with the help of her son Jon; her head worker, Jay; and 6-8 employees.  They also have the help of volunteers like us who get a chance to see how much hard work goes into growing food organically. 

Genesis Growers practice sustainable, natural farming and they are on the rigorous path to organic certification.  Vicki told us about the recent tornado that came through St. Anne; she watched it tear down her street! The tornado left the farm rain-soaked and in serious need of weeding.  A nearby farmer joked with her that he could get rid of her weeds for just $5 an acre.  She winced; her dedication to organic farming means that weeding must be done by hand, without the use of chemicals.  And Genesis Growers pay their workers a living wage, so five dollars on her farm doesn’t go very far.  Our group of 6 volunteers pulling weeds for 4 hours didn’t quite make it halfway through 4 rows of eggplant!  Vicki laughed and said, “And people ask why organic is so expensive!”

Ignoring our blackened fingernails and sweat-soaked clothes, we chatted over tasty Southport Grocery sandwiches (provided by Slow Food Chicago).  From the bike-riding vegan to the urban planner, to the food enthusiasts, we all have reasons for supporting local farmers and ideas for making our region (and our world) a better place.  I currently subscribe to get fruit and vegetables from a variety of local farms, but the experience on Vicki’s farm made me want to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).  Becoming a CSA member involves a deeper commitment to your farmer.  When a hailstorm destroys the pepper crop (as was the case for Vicki this summer), you hear about it in your newsletter and forgo peppers until the next batch is ready for harvesting.  You also know that you are giving the farmer a guaranteed wage at the beginning of the season; you are investing in their endeavors.  At the same time, until we see significant policy changes, “voting with your fork” will not be enough to keep small-scale organic farmers afloat.  

Spending the day on the farm is something I’d recommend to anyone who questions farmer’s market prices.  It is hard work; my fingers were sore, my neck was burnt, and I didn’t even put in a full day!  

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) recognizes the importance of local food – from environmental impacts to health benefits.  The GO TO 2040 long-range comprehensive plan recommends promoting a sustainable local food system (PDF).  Specifically, the plan focuses on three implementation areas: facilitating sustainable local food production and addressing policy changes; increasing access to fresh, affordable, and healthy foods; and increasing data, research, training, and information sharing.  The draft regional comprehensive plan is the result of a six step planning process that began in September of 2007 with the development of a Regional Vision that outlined our desired future in terms of the region’s quality of life, natural environment, social systems, economy, infrastructure, and governance.  The GO TO 2040 Plan is open for public comment through August 6th, so let us know how you feel about our recommendations!

Lindsay Banks was born in Denver but spent most of her childhood in suburban Lake County.  She went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to get a degree in Urban and Regional Planning, and spent two years as a Municipal Development volunteer for the Peace Corps in rural Guatemala.  After getting a master’s degree in GIS, she worked for the U.S. Department of Transportation for two years, promoting the use of advanced technology and visualization at State DOTs across the country.  

She has been at CMAP since 2007, and helped write the Infill Snapshot Report that assesses the regional potential for infill development, and the strategy papers on Parking Management and Urban Design.  She is an avid bike commuter, an amateur photographer, and lives in the Ukranian village neighborhood of Chicago.


One Comment

  1. Rob Gardner says:

    “Spending the day on the farm is something I’d recommend to anyone who questions farmer’s market prices. It is hard work; my fingers were sore, my neck was burnt, and I didn’t even put in a full day!”

    That’s not even the half of it. We got there around 10, took a lunch break a few hours later, and then wrapped up a few hours after that. After manning the Swiss hoe for a while after lunch, my wrists just refused to go forward. You cannot appreciate the work involved in providing organic food until you spend just a few hours in their muddy shoes. My fingers, filled with all sorts of cuts around the cuticles and such, still ache days later.

    I know Farmer Vicki needed our help, but I am quite grateful for the chance to experience farm life, even if my time was so stilted.

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