L & R Farms is a small 20-acre farm operation consisting of John & Ida Thurman and children — five adult children and four younger ones — who see harmony with life’s process on MOTHER EARTH, to build community around nutritious foods, to educate the public about sustainable agriculture while making a low impact living, feeding our family, friends and neighbors. We wish to heal the land while encouraging new relationships in our local place and throughout the human family. L & R Farms is located within the sandy hills and oak savannas of Pembroke Township in Illinois. We have utilized sustainable organic methods of livestock and vegetable production in Illinois since 1992 for home consumption. However we began retail marketing in 1999. Livestock production includes grass fed/rotational grazed cattle and goats, pasture pork and range fed poultry, turkey, geese, duck and rabbits. The pesticide/herbicides-free vegetable production includes a rotation of melons, squash, peas, bean, corn, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, okra and greens. We also grow and cut grass hay.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
It is very important that farmers share experiences with the younger generation. It is also important that youth are taken out of their surroundings to see how other farmers operate diverse enterprises. This grant provided youth who were members of 4-H and Realistic Opportunities for Youth a safe place to be heard and learn hands-on socially responsible agricultural systems and other life skills. After receiving this grant along with the assistance of Pembroke Farming Family — Heifer Project International’s Project Partner, these youth were able to attend: Rooted in Community, Upper Mid West Organic, Southern SAWG, Illinois Specialty Crop, Sixth Annual Statewide Leadership, Urban/Rural of East Troy, WI, The Food Trust’s Our Future Grows Here and Kentucky’s Small Limited Resource/Minority Farmers Conferences and African American farm visits. Youth were able to network with other youth in the sustainable agriculture movement. It is our hope to continue this networking among youth and encourage other youth and adults’ participation.
The purpose of the compost project is to increase knowledge of and sources of organic matter in sandy soil in order to increase specialty crop production. Youth learned of free-range poultry, pastured pork, rabbits and vermicomposting at L& R Farms from start to finish. Rabbit and worms were raised in order to demonstrate the different sources of organic soil amendments. In order to protect the watershed, youth assisted with moving cattle from paddock to paddock and the day-to-day care of free-range poultry and pastured pork. Leslie Wright and John Thurman were on hand to assist youth during these demonstrations. John Thurman along with James Hayden, were on hand to share hay production techniques with the youth. Hay was stored for winter consumption of ruminant livestock. It is our intent to continue this project to grow to become a neighborhood-scale program that creates compost to be used to support youth and community gardens. This will reduce the cost of buying compost, divert garden waste and leaves from the landfill, and decrease the number of brush fires while enhancing green space.
The proposed plan of the Youth Garden Project is to increase youth involvement in expanding community garden activities that begun in 1995. Therefore the goal is to expose children, their families, Elders and teachers to horticulture, encourage gardening as a way of life for better nutrition and exercise, and for the experience that happens when children interact with nature. In order for youth to understand the hard work of the farmer to produce quality food, Herman Wallace and John and Ida Thurman provided assistance and the youth created a senior garden, the senior citizen’s garden, a hunger garden and an entrepreneurial garden. Three Youth Captains recruited Crew Members to conduct garden prep, plant, weed and harvest vegetables. Some of these youth also attend the farmer’s market in Kankakee, Joliet, and Chicago’s Austin Community. These youth and several other farmers assisted with the Pilot Pembroke/Hopkins Park Farmer’s Market. These programs continued to interest young people in reconnecting relationships within the community while promoting sustainable agriculture-gardens and learning skills for living through service. Little ones really look up to Youth Captains and Crew Members as role models as they teach the little ones friendship, cooperation, sharing, and respect for themselves, others and the natural world. These projects promote activities that reduce the negative risk-taking behavior of youth and young adults. We believe that providing stipends to the Youth Captains and Crew Members and having a volunteer program where youth participated in the community clean up are fundamental for youth’s participation and the success of the entire program.
The results from this grant were not what I expected, because of the fencing funding which has to be reapplied for. This project is a long process that demands constant attention in order to be successful. I believe that if sustainable agriculture is to exist, small farmers must promote, encourage and empower the young generation to connect with MOTHER EARTH and community. Small-scale farming can be challenging, this type of support is totally necessary.
Farming in Pembroke Township/Hopkins Park, Illinois (56.2 square miles; consisting of 4224 acres surrounded by dense suburban tract development and 200 plus corn and soybean farms) was once a way of life. However capital purchases have quadrupled, land purchases and property taxes have drastically increased and limited resource small farm families are losing their farmland. Because of SARE’s continued funding, farming is being revitalized in this Rural Village. Farmers are farming again. They now have markets that economically reward them for their hard work (produce and products). Let me remind you these are limited resource farmers therefore it will take some time for noticeable impact to be evident. However, open space that was once fallow is being utilized for vegetable, row crop and hay production. This funding (SARE, Catholic Community of Hopkins Park, Joliet, and Naperville, and Heifer Project International Midwest Office) helped ATNAN and L & R Farms (who have been the primary farmers participating in the City of Chicago Farmers’ Market in the Austin Community) promote Pembroke Township as a farm community. In 2003 Pembroke Township became one of the areas which the Governor has interest. TEAM Illinois and Department of Human Services is now providing technical assistance to the community. TEAM Illinois is now promoting Pembroke farmers. Agriculture is being promoted as a means of economic development.
Because sustainable agriculture is a part of L & R Farm’s daily routine, this grant gave young people an opportunity to experience diverse production systems, network with other farmers and youth in agriculture and be seen as important productive members of the community. I look forward to the relationship and knowledge that sustainable agriculture allows me to be a part of. Others learned of this story through the Pilot Pembroke/Hopkins Park Farmers’ Market. The residents and visitors enjoyed purchasing fresh vegetables. During the winter, farmers will revisit and plan for the next year’s market season. Though we did not have an official field day, L & R Farms also shared techniques through a farm tour, which about seventeen members of the community attended. We look forward to an official Farm Gathering/Field Day in the near future. Because sustainable agriculture is a part of L & R Farm’s day-to-day production, we will continue promoting young people in agriculture during the Realistic Opportunities for Youth/Future Farming Families program of ATNAN Rural Living Learning Center and L & R Farms. This center introduces initiatives such as the pilot farmers’ market within neighborhoods and attempts to encourage and cultivate local leadership.
I believe that this is a program that is needed in order for farmers to test possibilities of improving farm production through sustainable methods. It is just as important to reach out to limited resource African American/Black farmers. These farmers have endured a much higher rate in decline of farmers (Black farmers in the United States peaked at approximately 926,000 in 1920, owning 15.6 million acres of farmland nationally. Between 1920 and 1969 there were a 90 percent decrease and by 1997 a 98 percent decrease in Black Farmers. This compares to an overall decline among White Farmers of 66 percent). At the same time I am grateful to be able to continue farming and sharing what I know and learn with others. This program has assisted L & R Farms in doing just that. The projects/way of life that we have attempted to cultivate and share is in need of continued assistance. During a visit from Jesse Jackson last year a local resident stated in order to help the people of Pembroke you have to go low enough. This program goes low enough. Keep in mind these are limited resource farm families. Though others are showing interest, the resources have not yet surfaced. Therefore this project is in need of a continuation.