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.
Yatte Moore, Urban Farm Manager for the Roots Wings Farm & Garden, has been selected as Kane County Juvenile Justice Center’s first Farmer in the Classroom. Farmer in the Classroom is run through the Juvenile Justice Center's Farm to School Program and is designed to introduce students to experiences and careers in agriculture by learning from the professionals. Below is the application that Yatte submitted where you can learn more about him.
Meet Yatte Moore
I’ve been the Urban Farm Manager for the Roots & Wings program for 5 years. Currently I am farming on half an acre, which includes farming in two high tunnels. I also oversee a small Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) business and a large community plot where residents of Blackhawk Courts have access to fresh vegetables 24/7. My farming experience has been great. I’ve enjoyed learning and working with people of all races and ages.
I have a lot of experience speaking to various groups and leading farm tours. Roots & Wings has a youth leader program for participants who are between the ages of 10-18. My work with them includes speaking to the participants about healthy living, organic growing practices, proper harvesting techniques, and how to be responsible for a given farm task.
I have participated in presenting to organizations and businesses about farming and the Roots & Wings program. I have done presentations with the Rotary Club, Rockford’s Women’s League, Williams and Manny, and recently completed a virtual video presentation with Rockford Housing Authority with students in the Life-force Development Institute (LDI) program. I've also led groups of volunteers to work on the farm. These groups include; Rockford Work camps, Comprehensive Community Solutions (CCS), and the Chrysler Corporation. With the Chrysler Corporation I oversaw this volunteer effort along with the staff who were involved in the task of building the high tunnels.
I've hosted tours of the farm with a lot of different organizations and groups such as residents of the Blackhawk community, Funders of our Roots and Wings Program, and most recently the Principal of Beyer Elementary School. Beyer Elementary is a new partnership we anticipate starting this fall. Finally, I’ve hosted tours with the Mayor of Rockford, facilitated open houses for our CSA members, and even had the honor to host Will Allen who pioneered Urban Agriculture.
Jannette Ortiz launched her farm business this past week and sold her products at the Vernon Hill Farmers' Market for the first time. Her business, Mindful Farm, offers soaps, plants and other goodies grown from her passion for natural skin care. Jannette says the foundation for her success is the Stateline Farm BeginningsⓇ program, led by Angelic Organics Learning Center.
Before Stateline Farm BeginningsⓇ, Jannette grew plants and gifted them to friends and family, helping them start their own gardens. At one point, she had 700 plants inside her house. Seeing people benefit from her plants made Jannette realize that she could turn this into a business. In listening to panelists and presenters in the Stateline Farm BeginningsⓇ program, Jannette was inspired to use her plants to make products. She started by using other people’s soap recipes and trying new methods, and now creates products with her own recipes.
In addition to soap and skin care products, Jannette sells her plants at the market. She says, “The Vernon Hills farmers market audience includes a lot of people who live in apartments, and they are grateful for plants that can thrive in a small space”. She loves to teach people about the benefits each plant offers. As Stateline Farm BeginningsⓇ encourages farmers to do, Jannette has found her niche of product and audience. Jannette completed the course with her boyfriend, and the two now reminisce about sitting around the fire with everyone at AOLC and feeling that the dreams they thought were impossible could actually come true. Jannette says being together with other aspiring and beginning farmers was motivational. She loves seeing other farmers succeed, and connecting with others inspires her to do more.
Jannette says she simply could not have done this if she had not gone through Stateline Farm BeginningsⓇ. Although her day job is in international business, she says the business plan training was critical to creating a sustainable foundation for her business. The pandemic interrupted the mentorship period of Jannette’s training, but she made the most of the down time by doing her homework- researching local markets, asking questions, getting creative with her website and becoming a USDA licensed nursery.
Mindful Farm products include goat milk soaps, vegan soaps, body butters and lip balms, with more products to be added throughout the summer. Jannette also grows and sells plants, including calendula, mint, red raspberry, Roman chamomile and plantain lilies. You can find Jannette’s Mindful products at her online store and at Vernon Hills Farmers Market every other Thursday, now through October at Century Park in Vernon Hills, Illinois. Her goals for the next year include participating in a local winter market and adding all her products to her website along with information and stories about the uses of her plants.
If you are considering launching or expanding your farm business, Stateline Farm Beginnings can help! The program is a part of the Farm Beginnings Collaborative® and has graduated nearly 300 sustainable farmers in our region.
The Farm Beginnings® model is emerging as the most effective way to increase the number of beginning farmers building food & farm economies that are green, fair, and healthy. Farm Beginnings® is approved as an educational provider through the Farm Service Agency (FSA). Completion of this course fulfills the educational requirements for FSA loan applicants.