How did you get started?
I grew up surrounded by nature and animals in Michigan. My parents had a small hobby farm where my mom raised sheep and we had a mischievous goat named Sundance that I loved. A graduate school program brought me to Chicago for an internship and after graduation I took a job in the city. I always felt like something was not quite right and I missed open spaces, nature and animals. Eventually, I was able to change jobs and work in the suburbs. I was drawn to a Conservation Community in Grayslake called Prairie Crossing where at the heart of the neighborhood was a working organic farm. I met many local small farmers from living there and became passionate about local food in the Chicagoland area. Soon after moving there, I applied to a farm business development program that was offered at the farm. Most of the other beginning farmers there were growing vegetables, but I was super drawn to goats and all of the different products you could make from their milk and fiber. I never thought that I would be accepted into the program because I did not have degrees or a real background in agriculture. I was so excited when I was accepted. I purchased three goats as soon as I was accepted and the herd slowly grew from there! My husband and father-in-law built me a small barn on wheels where I could move the goats from pasture to pasture with portable electrical net fencing. I spent four years in the program before moving to Pecatonica and purchasing my own land and farm to build a dairy to make cheese.
What are your proudest achievements?
Our soap was featured on Oprah’s website in 2011 as one of her perfect presents. In addition, our soap was carried nationwide in Crate & Barrel stores for a one year contract. The biggest achievement was purchasing our own farm and figuring out how to build a certified dairy and a creamery!
Do you have advice for someone who wants to start farming?
My advice would be to keep your day job as long as you can. There is a tremendous amount of money that you will need to start a farming enterprise with unexpected costs when buying farm land or building infrastructure. Make friends in your community if moving to a rural place. You need your neighbors in the country! Find a good livestock veterinarian. They are worth their weight in gold and hard to find. You always end up needing one during kidding season in the middle of the night.
The Importance of Camp
Many campers come back year after year, and their parents will tell you why:
My son loves the animals and respects what happens on the farm. He enjoyed the work as much as the fun. This is an awesome experience for him and he loves returning each year.
My granddaughter attended and she learned so much! The experience encouraged her to learn more about farming, where food comes from, and what organic means, just to name a few. For me, there is nothing that has made me happier in the last year and a half than picking up a kid with a dirty face, mud up to their knees, red cheeks from the sun and a huge smile on their face! Best experience ever.
[We love the] opportunity for our children to: learn about sustainable farming, have unique and enriching experiences, and have camp experiences that are outside and with animals. Our children have immensely enjoyed each and every camp at Angelic Organics Learning Center, so much so we have donated to the center to keep it going and available to all.
Our spring and summer camp dates and pricing can be found here. We believe that every child should have the opportunity to attend camp. We are proud to have a scholarship fund through which we can make sure kids of all backgrounds have the chance to go to camp. If you would like more information on financial aid, please email email@example.com.
Views from the roots & Wings brunch
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.
A Cornerstone Field Trip
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!
Nature Trails Completed
Special thank you to On-Farm Program Director Laura Sjoquist and On-Farm Educators Jessie Crow Mermel and Randy Mermel for their leadership.
Welcome to the Farm Dinner
“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.