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Getting to Know Liz Whitehurst, the New On-Farm Initiative Program Director

This week, Liz Whitehurst joins the Angelic Organics Learning Center team as the new On-Farm Initiative Program Director. Former Program Director Deb Crockett will now serve as AOLC's Senior Program Director, providing oversight for all of the Learning Center's initiatives. She'll be more present in Rockford and Chicago in particular, as each of those program areas are expanding. Deb will still be teaching yoga at the farm, doing beekeeping with groups, and coaching Liz as she steps into her job. Deb and Liz will be sending out notice to partners this week to clarify the transition in roles. We are excited to welcome Liz to our team!

I had the pleasure of asking Liz a few questions about herself so we can all get to know her better.  Here is what Liz had to say… 

Why do you think farm education is important?

Liz:  I could talk about this for days! I think farm education is important because connecting people with where their food comes from has transformative potential. At it's best, farm education creates an opportunity to discover and acknowledge our relationships with each other and with the earth. So many of these relationships are violent and destructive, but an experience on the farm is often an opportunity to experience a model of relationships that are more healthy and more just, and I happen to think that's enormously powerful.

Where did you grow up?

Liz: I grew up about 60 miles east of Angelic Organics in Lake Villa, IL. My town suburbanized rapidly during my life there: for example, the cornfield in my backyard became a subdivision while I was in high school. I'm glad to return to the area now, and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to learn and appreciate the place in a new way. 

What sparked your passion for sustainable agriculture and local foods?

Liz: There are at least three main things that sparked (and continue to fuel) my passion for sustainable food:

1. I feel so much better - physically, emotionally, spiritually - when I eat well. I worked at an independently- owned health food store in college, which is where I first started learning about local food and when I first started paying real attention to what I put in my body. I learned how to cook not long after, and it is remarkable how much it changed the way I felt. 

2. Food gives me a way to connect with all kinds of people, especially people who come from different backgrounds. This was a really important lesson I learned when I interned at a drop-in center for homeless women in college: even though on the surface, we had very little in common, we'd start by about the brownies at lunch, and end up having real, rich conversations. Growing and eating food is my favorite way to build communities, and being a part of a diverse, healthy community is what I'm all about.

3. I don't want to work in an office staring at a screen all day! I feel grateful that I get to work outside.

Tell us a little about the farms you have worked on in the past? What were your roles on those farms?

Liz: North Country School/Camp Treetops was the first farm I ever worked on. It's in the Adirondacks of New York and it is so unbelievably beautiful. I'd be thinning tiny carrots or weeding rows of greens and my back would ache, I'd be sweating profusely, but then I'd look up at the mountains at these mountains and pine trees and the great big sky - needless to say, I was hooked. I also had a ton of fun working with the kids at camp, doing morning chores and going on walks to find edible weeds.

After that, I worked on an urban farm in Washington DC called the Neighborhood Farm Initiative. The farm is one section of larger community garden, and one of the best things about it is that the community garden has members from all over the world. I learned so much from them! As the Volunteer Coordinator, I also got to interact with lots of people who were new to agriculture, and I really appreciated their enthusiasm and curiosity.

Most recently, I worked at the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture. I got started by planning their youth educational garden, and I ended up creating and running the farm education programs: field trips, a summer camp, and a new workshop series. It was great to work for a small, brand-new organization, in part because I got to exercise my creative and multi-tasking muscles.

For the last few years, I've also been an active member of the urban farming community in DC, so I've also volunteered at lots of other farms and gardens in the region. One of the things I've loved most about my farm life is that I've met so many wonderful, down-to-earth people who share and collaborate. 

What is your favorite thing to teach on the farm?

Liz: I like teaching about all kinds of things, but I really love talking about soil. I love incorporating the sensory experiences, especially with kids - the smell, the way it feels on your hands, the way it sounds under your boots. Plus, my mind is just blown every time I think about all the life in the soil, how complex it is, and how vital it is to our lives, so I love sharing that sense of wonder with folks I'm teaching.

What is your favorite farm animal? Why?

Liz: I'm really looking forward to learning more and developing relationships with farm animals at Angelic Organics. Although I've spent time on farms with chickens, goats, pigs and sheep, most of my experience has been on fruit and vegetable farms. Ask me again in a few months! 

What is your favorite vegetable?

Liz: I love kale. I love it so much. Not just because it's delicious and nutritious, but also because it's also beautiful and resilient.

What are your other interests and hobbies?

Liz: I like reading novels and writing poetry, I cook a lot of vegan food, and I like hiking. I'm excited to do more canoeing and kayaking on the rivers in northern IL. I think a lot about the intersections of class, race, and food, as well as women's issues - I've worked and volunteered on crisis hotlines for women in the past. Plus, now that my sweetheart Spencer and I are moving out of a city, we're really hoping to get a dog! (Spencer and I met at a permaculture workshop at Common Good City Farm, where he used to be the farm manager. He's seriously skilled when it comes to growing food and building communities, so I'm glad he's on my team!)

What are you most looking forward to about working at Angelic Organics Learning Center?

Liz: The Angelic Organics Learning Center seems like such a unique and special place in so many ways, and I have so much to learn: about the people, the place, the land, the animals, and the history, (not to mention the policies, the procedures, the paper work and the curriculum). Plus, everyone I met was warm, welcoming, dynamic, and fully engaged in their work, so I am looking forward to learning and growing as part of a stellar team.