Displaying items by tag: farm
Sonja and Rich Brook have built a legacy on their farm in rural Harvard. People who frequent the Woodstock Farmers Market know the Brooks for their flavored popcorn, fresh vegetables and flowering plants. After many years of hard work, they were thinking of retiring from farming and wondered who would take over the operation since their children went down different paths. But now they’ve found the perfect farmers who appreciate all that the Brooks have accomplished.
Jennifer Kinney of Piscasaw Gardens grows and sells fresh cut flowers at the Woodstock Farmers Market. She and her husband Aaron purchased the Brooks’ farm in May, and cut flowers will continue to play a prominent role in the business. They are also growing 25 acres of fruits and vegetables and 15 acres of Mirai corn, as well as the popcorn production that Rich and Sonja started.
Jennifer pays tribute to her grandmother, Selma Davidson, who helped her begin to grow cut flowers, and to her mother Janet Davidson and her grandmother, Martha Blum, for instilling a love of all growing things. She also tagged along with her dad, Walter Davidson, a dairy farmer and field crop producer. Jennifer says, “My dad taught me that a farmer gets up and out to do the work no matter how wet, cold, windy or hot it is, and no matter how crappy one feels. My family is my first strong stream of farming heritage … We are so thankful for Rich and Sonja and we hope to honor their legacy on the farm.”
Jen’s advice to newer farmers who dream of owning their own place: “Number one is you need experience, but not too much. If you apply for an FSA loan they won’t give you one if you have more than nine years’ experience as a farmer. And number two is, take advantage of the federal loan program because it is a lower interest rate and allows you to spread the payments out over a longer period of time than a conventional loan.”
Piscasaw Gardens is at 9306 Lawrence Road, Harvard. Customers may purchase products at their storefront on the farm or at several farmers markets, including the one in Woodstock. Visit their website at www.piscasaw.com.
My husband and I have subscribed to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) service since 2007. For 18-20 weeks during the growing season (typically late June to early October), we receive fresh vegetables grown at a local farm. We like knowing the farmers, and have learned to prepare some vegetables we never would have tried otherwise.
Do you know where your food comes from? When eating at a restaurant, picking up a quick fast food snack, or sitting down to eat at home, do you know where each of the ingredients in your meal is grown?
In many cases, the answer would be a surprise. Apple juice from China. Lettuce from California. Grapes from Chile. Lamb from Australia.
Transportation of food across such vast distances – by boat, plane, truck and train – has economic as well as environmental costs. Simply put, it costs more to transport a product to Woodstock from China than it does to bring it in from Iowa. With gas prices around $4 a gallon in the US (and much more elsewhere in the world), transportation costs will continue to be a significant share of the cost of food.
On the environmental side of the equation, all those vehicles use fuel that emits carbon dioxide, which contributes to warming the planet, which in turn leads to changes in the climate. Climate change is causing some areas to receive more rain, and others to receive less, and water availability is a critical element of growing food.
Long distance transportation of food also has a social cost, as it disconnects people even more from the sources of their food. When people start to see farmland as “scenery” and not as the source of food, there is a greater risk that the full value of that “open land” will not be recognized or valued by society. Ask the average person where his food comes from, and he is likely to say “from the grocery store.”
For those who visit the local farmers’ market, the answer might be “well, my beef comes from a farm in Greenwood, and my vegetables come from a farm near Harvard.”
People have been embracing the benefits of buying local food for several years now. So much so, that there is a word to describe them: locavore, n. meaning one who eats foods locally grown whenever possible. Locally grown food products are fresher than food that has been shipped in from far away. I also find local produce to taste better than store bought items. And buying directly from a local farmer is good for the local economy.
Restaurants are now promoting the use of locally raised meats and produce on menus. 1776 and Duke’s Alehouse in Crystal Lake both describe the source of many ingredients right on their menus. Expressly Leslie’s in Woodstock obtains as many of the ingredients for its vegetarian meals from vendors at the Woodstock Farmers’ Market.
Buying more of one’s food locally at a farmers’ market, farm stand or through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) operation builds community, strengthens the local economy, and is better for the environment. It is just that simple.
Here are a few resources to help you find local food:
- The website www.localharvest.org provides an abundance of information to help the consumer find farmers’ markets, CSA operations, specific products and even restaurants that use local farm products in any area of the country.
- A group is working to create a McHenry County Food Cooperative which would be member-owned and operated. The food would be organic and sourced locally, and the money spent at a food co-op would stay in the community to boost the local economy. The group has a website: www.mchenrycountyfoodcoop.com and also a Facebook page. Volunteers are needed to help implement the project.
- Join me for “Speaking of Nature” on Harvard Community Radio, August 15th from 6-7pm for a discussion of local food issues. I’ll be talking live with Rich Brook, pictured above, Andy Andreski from 1776 restaurant and Scott Brix who is involved in the Coop effort. www.HarvardCommunityRadio.com
The last year or two, I’ve noticed changes to the farm fields I pass on my commute between Harvard and Woodstock each day. The hedgerows are thinning and in some cases, disappearing altogether.
As used here, the term hedgerow means a linear strip of vegetation (trees, shrubs and grasses) that runs along the fence line – or property boundary – between fields.
A hedgerow provides a wind break, which in turn reduces the amount of exposed soil that blows off of a farm field each year. It also reduces the amount of blowing a drifting snow, which can be a severe problem along US Route 14 between Harvard and Woodstock.
A hedgerow provides valuable habitat for a diversity of wildlife including deer, fox and birds. A hedgerow provides shelter that allows mammals to pass safely across the landscape and offers insects and birds a place to rest, nest and/or feed.
On some properties, hedgerows are the only place where old oaks are still found. When land was cleared one hundred of more years ago, farmers left many of the trees that were located on or near the property line. Over the years, these trees provided a comfortable spot to have one’s lunch on a hot summer day in the fields.
So, why are the hedgerows disappearing?
The high price of a bushel of corn.
Just ten years ago, the price of a bushel of corn was less than $3. Now that same bushel of corn sells for more than $6. And that was before the 2012 drought. Farmers are looking for additional land where they can plant corn to maximize production. And at 150-200 bushels an acre yield, even one additional acre of corn will generate $1,000 or more.
Demand for corn is high due in large part to federal Clean Air mandates that require blending ethanol with gasoline to reduce the emission of carbon monoxide. Increased use of ethanol also reduces America’s dependence on imported oil. Both seem worthy causes.
But the world is never that simple, is it? Corn is also needed for livestock feed and has become a staple in American processed food (high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch/baking powder, and corn oil being just a few).
So, basic economics tells us that competition for a product drives up the price, and scarcity (like happened in 2012 because of the drought) will drive up the price even more.
I’ve heard some folks say: “Most of those trees and shrubs are just junk anyway: box elders, buckthorn and honeysuckle.” Sure, but the wind doesn’t pay attention to what tree species is blocking it, and a bird that needs to take a break doesn’t mind if the only resting spot is a honeysuckle bush.
What does matter is whether there is something versus nothing, and the removal of more hedgerows for a few more acres of corn will have an impact on the future productivity of the land and the sustainability of the area for wildlife.
As the soil and birds start to disappear, we all may be wishing those hedgerows were back in place.
As if we needed another reason to purchase our food from local sources, along comes the Great American Egg Recall of 2010!
Billions of eggs potentially tainted with Salmonella bacteria, and thousands of people sick as a result.
The photos of the factory egg "farms" are too awful for me to include here -- chickens packed in cages, stacked on top of one another in conditions that should be criminal. And why? Because Americans want cheap eggs. Lots of cheap eggs. At the rate of 150 (or more) eggs per person, per year, that adds up to nearly 50 billions eggs a year - and that's just the ones folks buy in cartons -- add in all the eggs that are used as an ingredient in the foods we buy, and we are looking at closer to 75 billion eggs consumed each year in the US!
At a price of about $1.00 per dozen, we are talking about at least $4 billion in egg sales each year.
There is an alternative, you know. Yep, more folks could buy their eggs from local farmers.