Farmers are the New Movie Stars
Bright lights, Big City…
(left to right: Jody Osmund, Kim Marsin, Rachel Reklau, and Michael Thompson, photo courtesy veglib.com)
The other night I got to go to an event in Chicago. It was a screening of “The Greenhorns” at the Hideout. Billy Burdett, of Advocates for Urban Agriculture (AUA), had invited me to be part of a farmer panel after the film. A good friend and a farmer, Molly Breslin, had suggested he get in touch. Molly, and other farmer friends, Alex Needham and Allison Park of Radical Root Farm, had been on a panel for another screening of the film.
It’s always fun to go to the Hideout. Whether it’s to listen to good friend, Katie Belle Trupiano, sing fantastic music at the country music fest, to eat soup and break bread with Martha Bayne at Soup & Bread, or join farmers who share my passion for good food and sustainability. Although 80 miles from our farm; the Hideout is definitely part of our community.
I arrived in time to grab a beer before the screening and re-connect with more friends. Vera Videnovich of Videnovich Farms was there. We’ve been friends with Vera since she started vending at the Logan Square Farmers market. Vera grows vegetables for a CSA as well as for fine restaurants in the city. Vera also has a flock of sheep and fashions some extraordinary hand-knits with her hand spun and home dyed wool. Last night she was sporting her city duds. Vera lives in Hyde Park and farms in SW Michigan.
Other familiar faces at the Hideout included Martha Boyd, Program Director for the Angelic Organics Learning Center’s Urban Initiative, and Harry Rhodes executive director of Growing Home(GH) and a founder of AUA. I’ve worked with Martha on several farmer training initiatives including a backyard chicken keeping class with Tom Rosenfeld of Earth First Farms several years ago. Also, I’ve been a guest speaker for the urban “Farm Dreams” program, a course for urban dwellers contemplating a farming career. Harry, I’ve known for several years, too. Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm (CVSF) has collaborated with Growing Home’s Marseilles, IL Les Brown Memorial Farm on several projects over the years. Long-time GH staffer, Larry O’Toole is a cofounder of the North Central Illinois Farm Network (greenfarmers) which started in 2008 with half a dozen sustainable farmers looking to connect, share ideas, and lend support to one another.
Then, of course, were the other farmers on the panel: Kim Marsin and Rachel Reklau of Sweet Home Organics and Michael Thompson of the Chicago Honey Co-op. I met Kim and Rachel several years ago. They were part of a Stateline Farm Beginnings course that I was a guest instructor. At the time, they were a suburban dwelling, corporation working, couple with sustainable agriculture dreams. Since then, they’ve become farmers with a 50 member CSA and an on-farm vegetable stand. Kim is the fulltime farmer, while Rachel has kept her corporate job – an effective strategy for couples entering the field. My wife, Beth, taught special education at a local school for four years while we established CVSF. I have to say it is very gratifying to see people farming whom I’ve had at least a small part in teaching.
I first met Michael and learned of the Chicago Honey Coop from the Logan Square Farmers market where he vends. Since then, I see him regularly at local foods meeting in and around the city. Michael is a true urban farmer. He raises and sells livestock products (bees, honey, and beeswax), grows thousands of pounds of vegetables in a community garden, and teaches others how to work with honey bees. In 2008, Michael traveled to northern Italy to represent sustainable food producers from the Chicago area as a Slow Food delegate to Terra Madre.
When the screening ended, the four of us made our way up to the stage, complete with a table, chairs, and microphones for all of us – except the moderator. Billy was there to see if there was anything we needed and to go over the format for our panel – he got us a pitcher of ice water and cups. There was a slight delay as another microphone was set up for the moderator. We got settled in our places. The stage-lights were turned up on us, while the room lights were lowered on the rest of the room. The term “rock-star farmer” has been bandied about often paired with “celebrity chef.” I’ve never really felt I fit that part. But, blinking in the glare of the spotlights and looking out on a packed house (I, don’t think anyone left after the screening), I felt a bit of the gleam. Luckily, any stage-fright was alleviated by being prepared and sharing the table with friends. Billy had sent us all a list of questions to be covered a few days ahead.
Here is the list of questions Billy had sent us:
“What was the hardest lesson to learn as a new farmer?”
“What was the most surprising lesson?”
“What were your greatest challenges, and how did you overcome them?”
“What are the greatest challenges you still face?”
“What advice would you give to aspiring farmers?”
“What were your best/most helpful resources?”
“What can people in the audience do to make it easier for farmers–both urban and rural–in Illinois to thrive?”
Each farm/farmer got to answer the questions from each perspective. Kim and Rachel alternated with Kim taking the lead as the she is the full-time farmer. Michael shared his wisdom of many years of growing food and community organizing. Jody shared the perspective of being a “farm-kid” and returning to the farm-life after an extended absence (15 years). Our moderator, Melanie Hoekstra – Operations Manager at The Plant and co-chair of AUA’s Connections Working Group – kept us on track; made sure we all could give our answers; and even was able to take some questions from the audience. A constant refrain from all the panelists was that farming IS A LOT OF HARD WORK. We all appreciated that “The Greenhorns” film had not glossed over that obvious fact. The discussion concluded promptly at 9:00pm. Kudos to our moderator and the fact that a band needed to set up for a show later that evening. I left grateful for knowing such great farmers and people and hopeful for the future because of all the people interested in local, sustainable, agriculture and the communities that support it and are nourished by it.
If Local Beet readers would like to learn more about the panelist’s answers, please leave your comments indicating your interest and I will make that an upcoming post!