Letter from our Executive Director, January 2022
We may have struggled over the past few years through a dramatic expansion in facilities and programming, through drastic transition in staffing and leadership, and through a debilitating pandemic, but we sit at the cusp of the most promising year since I started in late 2019.
It’s 2022. Welcome to the Year of Glass!?
Each year the United Nations invites its member states to observe themed International Years in order to raise awareness around various topics which reaffirm, among other things, the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It’s a neat idea, and I can see how it could help spur governmental action to support sustainable development. 2022 is the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture, the International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development, the International Year of Sustainable Mountain Development, and the International Year of Glass.
There are suggestions for ways in which member states can celebrate each theme. Please note when it comes to celebrating glass, we’re invited to “to observe the International Year, in an appropriate manner and in accordance with national contexts and priorities, through activities aimed at raising awareness of and directing policy attention to the importance of glass in daily life.” In other words, make sure you keep the funny business to a minimum when it comes to glass, got it?
It’s 2022. Welcome to the Year of the Tiger!?
According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2022 is the Year of the Tiger. The Water Tiger, to be specific. The Tiger is known as the king of all beasts in China and can be a symbol for power and prestige, strength and braveness. The Tiger can also symbolize loneliness, however, because their strong personalities make it difficult to get along with others. Various internet sources say that the Water Tiger of 2022 implies a year of caution, growth, development, challenge, creation, and planning, and that babies born this year are predicted to be smart, humorous, and good at socializing, lucky when it comes to making money, and have a strong ability to adapt to new things. Wow!
It’s 2022. Welcome to the Year of the Learning Center!
Angelic Organics Learning Center is many things to many people. We’re farmer trainers. We’re food and farm educators. We’re urban farmers. We’re integral members of the communities we serve. We may have struggled over the past few years through a dramatic expansion in facilities and programming, through drastic transition in staffing and leadership, and through a debilitating pandemic, but we sit at the cusp of the most promising year since I started in late 2019.
We have a full calendar of programs ready to teach, charm and captivate, we have a strong and nearly complete staff team, we have a supportive Board of Directors, we have a fine-tuned Covid response and mitigation strategy, and we have a growing community of enthusiastic participants and supporters. Most importantly, we have the most beautiful vision, which we work toward with joy and celebration, every day of the year.
At Angelic Organics Learning Center, we envision a dynamic and enduring partnership between farmers and consumers who strive for economies, ecologies, and cultures that respect the land and honor the people who work it, know healthy food as a human right, celebrate the beauty and mysteries of life and the living earth, encourage authenticity and self-reliance and cooperation, and are sustainable over many generations.
It's 2022. Welcome to those of you who recently joined our community via our peer-to-peer fundraising campaign and welcome back to our important, steadfast supporters who’ve walked with us toward our vision for a long time. I wish you all a healthy, prosperous and very happy year.
Jackie de Batista, Executive Director
We are excited to share that two of our board members have stepped into new roles- Brad Kemp is now Board President, and Jamie Zimmerman is Vice President. Tina Williams will continue as Secretary, and Andy Larson as Treasurer. Brad and Jamie share why they joined and what they are looking forward to.
The Class of 2021, friends, and family gathered both virtually and in person at McHenry County College on December 11th to celebrate this year’s Stateline Farm Beginnings® graduation. Stateline Farm Beginnings® is a year-long preparatory course in farm business planning. Rooted in the principles of holistic management and farm viability, participants take a wide-lens approach to their farm dream by exploring how to achieve their personal and professional aspirations. Graduation was a space for participants to share their farm plan with the group, give and receive feedback, and recognize their individual accomplishments from the year.
Peggy and Ari are software developers turned farmers. They have been accepted into Prairie Crossing Farm Business Development Center in Grayslake, Illinois, where they plan to launch Silver Fox Farm. Their principal product will be salad kits made with all local and sustainably grown ingredients. Follow along with them on Instagram @silverfoxfarmers.
You may recognize partners Andrea and Rebeca from our earlier post. Last year, Andrea enrolled in a three month course from Urban Triage, which she says, “opened my eyes to the depth of racism in Wisconsin and brought me to look deeper into racism in agriculture.” Together, Andrea and Rebeca are turning their dream of promoting equity in farming into reality by making their small farm available to farmers of diverse genders, sexualities, and racial and ethnic identities, who use the land and other farm resources to grow their own agriculture-based enterprises. Rebeca shared that, “It seems our dreams require a lot of work,” but their sleeves are already rolled up.
Yahdi is excited to launch Free Movement Farm. They say, “I fell into farming when I was googling careers to move my body more. I started volunteering on a farm, and it was the calmest I had ever felt.” In addition to producing food, Yahdi is planning a residential compost program where people give food scraps. They want to make composting more accessible in every way possible because, “nobody on this earth is free from the harm of being disconnected from the waste we produce.” Reflecting on Stateline Farm Beginnings®, Yahdi says, “This was like a year-long journal prompt. I had to reframe my dream into something that can support myself.” Follow their journey on Instagram @ugrowing2, and if you would like to support, head to Yahdi’s farm dream page on Go Fund Me.
Andy has six years of farm work experience and is excited to plan a farm of his own. While working on a livestock farm, he learned that his passion is in vegetable production. Andy has worked all over our region, and hopes to start his farm in the Milwaukee area.
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
Special thank you to the Center for Agrarian Learning at McHenry County College for hosting our hybrid sessions this year! Learn more about Stateline Farm Beginnings® here.
“I love being on the farm, but I know the reason I can be there is because of my privileges as a white, cis-gender woman that are denied to other people, and I can’t be at peace with that.” - Andrea
Q: What is your farm dream?
A: Our dream is to be an incubator-type farm for queer, Black, Latinx, Indigenous and other farmers who have historically been excluded from commercial agriculture in Wisconsin. We want to share our farmland and infrastructure so they can build up their business and capital without having to invest a lot up front. We’ll be mentors if they want that and do whatever we can to help their dreams come true. We plan to keep the land in the incubator style and have a nonprofit model. We currently have a farmer-partner who is starting his business on our farm, and he brings energy to the farm that we didn’t even know was missing.
Q: Describe one of your biggest learning moments during this course.
A: During the Farm Dreams Intensive course, it was eye opening to me to realize the power in putting time and energy into talking about, visualizing, and creating our farm dream. We are figuring out how to connect our passions and the change we want to see in the world into our farm. The dream started off as just a flicker. Each time we are asked to share our story, it gets bigger and brighter.
Q: Has Stateline Farm Beginnings® helped you overcome any challenges to reaching your farm dream?
A: The challenge was making our farm dream a priority, and this course has forced us to do that. For years we knew we wanted the farm to be something bigger than just the two of us, but between our jobs and everything else in life, it was hard to find time and energy to develop our farm dream. Committing to the SFB program makes it a priority. This experience helped us get over the fear of failing. One of the biggest benefits of this program is supporting one another. Being a part of this community’s passions feeds our own passion.
On October 23rd, we gathered at the Angelic Organics Lodge to celebrate Roots & Wings and recognize the 2021 Good Food Advocates, an award given annually to local leaders who are strengthening food accessibility in the Rockford area through their support of our Roots & Wings program. This year's awardees include Pastor Mike at Zion Lutheran Church and Laura Snyder & the leadership team at Rockford Housing Authority.
Event photos taken by Summer Wagner Photography, follow on Instagram.
This is a day of environmental immersion for our students. On this field trip, they are exposed to almost every topic we cover during the year. Students witness environmental sustainability first hand the moment they arrive and are introduced to a composting toilet. Our annual trip to Angelic Organics Learning Center is truly a cornerstone of our environmental science curriculum. Throughout the year we can reference back to our day at the farm, giving the students a real world experience to recall and relate to.
This field trip is a great opportunity to disconnect from our everyday lives. It is quiet and peaceful and definitely worth the effort to bring students here. Our long bus ride is worth the time we get to spend at the farm and many students say this is their favorite day of the year.
Head to our School Field Trips page to schedule your trip today!
Interview with On-Farm Educators Randy and Jessie
Like everything we do here, we think about future generations. - Randy Mermel
The ultimate goal of restoration work is listening to what the land needs.
To liberate the old growth oaks from invasive plants that were brought over since colonization.
To free the forest floor and let sunlight in.
If you would like to try a volunteer restoration workday for the first time, make sure to wear sturdy shoes and clothes that can get dirty. Dressing in layers is best because your body temperature changes with the labor. We provide the tools and fire to stay warm (weather permitting), and encourage you to bring water and snacks. Come on time so we can walk into the woods together. Please register in advance before attending a restoration work day so that we can contact you if any changes are made to the timing and location.
Farm Beginnings® is a farmer training model that is farmer-led, community based, and rooted in sustainable agriculture. The purpose of Farm Beginnings® is to help beginning farmers establish strong relationships with nearby farmers, businesses, resources, and customers within a community network that supports the local food and farming system. Farm Beginnings® programs support sustainable farming by promoting farming practices that are ecologically sound, economically viable, socially just, and achievable for new and beginning farmers. Farmers participate at all levels-- as steering committee members, classroom presenters, on-farm presenters, and on-farm mentors.
Angelic Organics Learning Center hosts Farm Beginnings® programming for the state line area of Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois-- Stateline Farm Beginnings®. Over the last 16 years, Stateline Farm Beginnings® has been a bedrock course for aspiring and beginning farmers in this area. Farmers learning from farmers is a core principle of the Farm Beginnings® model. With each graduating class, the pool of potential speakers to teach current Stateline Farm Beginnings® grows.
Three of the 2021 Stateline Farm Beginnings® participants at Angelic Organics Learning Center.
In recent years, the interests of new and aspiring farmers in our course have shifted. While livestock and vegetable farming are still central to most farm dreams, many new students are deeply interested in diversifying their offerings with enterprises like cut flowers, orchard fruits, mushrooms, hemp, and eco-tourism. While many plan to start their operation with less than five acres of land alongside an off-farm job, the opportunity for land access and growth is present and supported throughout the program.
In 2021, we reconfigured the course into three sessions - Farm Dreams Intensive, Skill Building Practicum, and Farm Business Intensive. This new model allows beginning farmers to pursue their farm dream at their own pace. Most recently, the course has moved to an online format. As we navigate through the changes in the pandemic, we continue to adapt the course. This fall, we are offering some keystone sessions in person, as safety permits.
Special thank you to On-Farm Program Director Laura Sjoquist and On-Farm Educators Jessie Crow Mermel and Randy Mermel for their leadership.
“Eating is an agricultural act,” said Wendell Berry, the famed farmer-advocate, environmentalist and writer. It was a quote that Jackie de Batista, Angelic Organic Learning Center’s Executive Director, emphasized during her address kicking off our “Welcome to the Farm” fundraising dinner on Saturday, August 21st.
This quote captures the vision fueling our programs — which help local, sustainable producers in our region learn, grow and connect with the eaters who benefit from the nutritious, delicious food they produce. The consummate act of eating is not something separate and apart from agriculture; it is the end of a process that is inextricably linked to the farm.
Jackie expressed her gratitude to the attendees for their financial support, which is critical for Angelic Organics Learning Center to overcome the unprecedented challenges of the past year and a half. She became Executive Director in November 2019 with experience as a farm educator (10 years at 4-H Youth Development Educator with University of Illinois Extension in Rockford) and farmer (she and her husband own Irish Grove Farms, a sustainable livestock operation in Pecatonica).
Just four months into her tenure, the COVID crisis hit, disrupting our in-person programming and requiring a pivot to online for the Stateline Farm Beginnings “Farm Dreams Intensive” program. Jackie is grateful for the determination of our staff and volunteers who continue to build a stronger, thriving local food system.
Dinner attendees gathered at tables under a tent, which came in handy during a rain shower that punctuated the otherwise beautiful summer evening. They dined on Moules Salad (featuring mussels, potatoes and greens), Jungle Curry (a Thai-inspired vegan dish using vegetable scraps that often go to waste), and a lemon-blueberry tart created by The Norwegian restaurant of Rockford. Owner Emily Hurd Christensen and Chef Dom Romano spoke at the dinner about their dedication to Good Food values. Before and after dinner, guests enjoyed live music performed by the quartet Trillium.
Angelic Organics Learning Center thanks the Rockford Art Deli, a print and design company, for sponsoring the event; New Holland Brewing Co. and Candid Wines for donating their excellent beverages; Bob Benenson, who covered the event for his Local Food Forum newsletter; and our goats and chickens for entertaining the guests by just being themselves.