Young Farmer Gathering a Great Success!
By Thea Maria Carlson
BING Coordinator, Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association
This weekend, over 70 young farmers and farming enthusiasts came together for two days of inspiration and connection at Angelic Organics Farm and Learning Center in Caledonia, Illinois. As coordinator of the Biodynamic Association’s Biodynamic Initiative for the Next Generation (BING), I spearheaded the organizing of the event, with help from Upper Midwest CRAFT, Angelic Organics Farm and Learning Center, and several other young farmers.
Traveling from as far as Colorado, Ontario, and Missouri to the convergence in northern Illinois, participants gathered Saturday afternoon for an opening circle followed by a walking tour of Angelic Organics Farm with the farm’s famed founder, Farmer John Peterson (star of “The Real Dirt on Farmer John”).
We started by visiting the greenhouse to see the farm’s soil block maker, and then went outside to see the transplanter specially designed for the soil blocks, as well as several other pieces of equipment.
Angelic Organics has a large collection of tractors and implements, which many of the young farmers were eager to see. As Farmer John put it, “When it comes to farming, you can either do it yourself, hire someone to do it, or get a machine to do it. Those are the only three options I know of. And you might find yourself thinking, as you’re watching someone you hire work, ‘I wonder if there’s a machine that could do this?’”
The walking tour also included the wash and pack areas, and ended by heading into the farm’s main barn to look at the field map, carefully tweaked over 20 seasons to pack an incredible amount of information onto an 11×17 piece of paper, including crop rotations, varieties, and planting dates. The second part of the tour was to be on hay wagons to get out into the fields, but unfortunately the predicted thunderstorms rolled in, so we delayed that portion and crossed our fingers for better weather later in the afternoon.
After the tour, attendees had a choice of two panels of young farmers sharing their experiences. One focused on land tenure and navigating the people side of farming, while the other featured chefs and farmers who are working collaboratively to grow and serve local food. Both panels resulted in lively discussions among the participants, and when the rain came down in heavy, drenching sheets just as it was time to bring everyone back together for a mixer session, everyone decided to just stay where they were, successfully mixing and mingling without any facilitation.
Once the rain let up, the group gathered to share a sumptuous spread of potluck dishes, complemented by a delicious array of produce from the farm prepared by Angelic Organics’ farm hospitality coordinator and chef, April Morris. With plates piled high with salads, dips, pasta, vegetables, grass-fed burgers, and what some called “the best sweet corn in the Midwest,” we all enjoyed new conversations at tables set up in the farm’s former garage turned café.
Miraculously, just as dinner was wrapping up the rain stopped, and everyone hopped on the hay wagons again for a chance to see the farm’s impressive and beautiful fields before sunset. Several attendees remarked that they had never seen such large quantities of vegetables in the field, and the farm’s strong emphasis on order made those hundreds of long beds all the more awe-inspiring. It was nearly dark by the time the hay wagons returned to the barn, but the gathering was far from over!
The evening’s activities took place in the loft of Angelic Organics’ packing shed, an old barn painted bright orange with a vintage retail sign affixed to the front. The loft is filled with a wide variety of chairs and couches, along with more vintage signs, dozens of window shutters, and all manner of other odds and ends collected over decades. (The upstairs of the big white barn next door features a large costume collection, but unfortunately, due to the leaky roof, we decided not to gather there.)
Around 9 p.m., we made ourselves comfortable for a screening of “The Greenhorns”, a new film about young farmers and food entrepreneurs that is currently touring the country through community screenings like ours. The film’s 50 minutes packed in glimpses of farms throughout the U.S., along with touching, thought-provoking, and sometimes humorous interviews with the young farmers managing them. The film’s producer and director Severine von Tscharner Fleming interspersed her farm visits with educational tidbits on the history of farming in the United States, how the landscape has changed, and resources available for young farmers, illustrated by historical footage and spunky graphics from The Greenhorns’ resident illustrator, Brooke Budner.
The film ended to resounding applause, and was followed immediately by the first of two musical acts: Amy Luxenburger, a former employee of Angelic Organics farm who is now devoting her time to music in Bloomington, Indiana. Amy, accompanied by Zach Anno on guitar, alternately played accordion and ukulele while singing her own songs and a few covers with her strikingly lovely voice. After Amy, those who were still awake swayed to the stylings of the Chicago country band Cpt. Captain, whose acoustic guitar, electric bass, and vocals were rounded out by a pedal steel guitar. One audience member asked me afterward, “Were you aware of the caliber of these musicians when they were invited?” Oh yes, the music was good.
When we emerged from the loft, the sky had completely cleared to show the bright full moon, many stars, and even some meteors.
Early Sunday morning April was back in the kitchen cooking up an all-local breakfast of eggs, potatoes, and pancakes accompanied by fresh salsa, homemade yogurt, maple syrup, sliced melons, and plenty of hot fair trade organic coffee. Around 35 remaining young farmers and one of the bands who had camped or slept in the barns overnight gathered again to enjoy the morning meal, and everyone pitched in after to clean up and put everything on the farm back in order.
We concluded the weekend with a final circle, where each person shared three words that came to mind: inspiring, connections, friends, energizing, warmth, timeliness, appreciation, organized, success, vibrant (and many more).
Thank you to everyone who came to the event, and to all who helped organize! I also want to thank all of our generous donors and sponsors: Alterra Coffee, Angelic Organics Farm, Angelic Organics Learning Center, the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association, Ela Orchard, The Greenhorns, Heritage Prairie Market Farm, Janet Gamble, Lakefront Brewery, Shadow Lawn Farm, and Turtle Creek Gardens.
We hope that this wonderful gathering will inspire others to organize similar events across North America in the coming months. If you are interested in making something happen in your community, apply to become a BING intern!