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.
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.