Establishment of an Organic, Sustainable Small-Scale Farm Producing Livestock (Goats/Chickens) and Vegetables for Niche Markets in Chicago
United Human Services (UHS) is a not-for-profit organization that has been operating within Chicago for more than three years. It caters especially to abused women. It also involves from this experience, UHS recognized the need for education to more people in a larger area, and therefore acquired a 25 acre plot in Pembroke Township. UHS intends to initiate a mixed farming (livestock and vegetable) operation on a 3-5 acre model farm within the 25 acre farm. Organic farming practices will be adhered to. The project will become a showcase to residents and potential farmers, as well as student interns of organic agriculture and 4-H youth. The Pembroke area is situated 60 miles south of Chicago, in the southeast part of Kankakee County. Soils are sandy-loams and are productive if amended with green manure and compost. Residents are primarily organic farmers. The presence of a large and diverse market in Chicago provides plenty of incentive to produce food, especially for items that are of special value to niche markets. Goats are especially in great demand for the niche markets (Hispanics and Muslims).
The small farm will begin operation in the spring of 2008. My goal will be to establish a sustainable system after the second year of operation, so that inputs and financing for the farm will come from within. Vegetable production will be from seed that has been saved from previous years, or from purchase using income acquired from sale of produce. Cover crops and compost will be sources of organic “green” manure, while chicken and goat manure will fertilize pasture as well as the garden. Water supply will be from borehole, which will be easy to construct because of the mostly sandy soil and the relatively short depth (about 50 ft.) to the aquifer. The farm system should be self-supporting by the third year.
To begin with, the land needed to be cleared as sandy loams needed vast nurturing. Yet their top priority was to be organized and to designate leaders as to specific responsibilities and functions. While the loams were treated with green manure and compost, bore-holes and connecting pipes were generated and applied giving them the ability to begin their goals to plant for fresh ginger and seasonal flowers. They waited for specific harvest yet straightway they planted for immediate produce such as tomatoes, okra, pepper, fruits, vegetables, cucumber and herbs. Some work has been done at Pembroke and some in Chicago. At Pembroke, 1 acre has been used so far. They are planning to have plants established first then add animals to the picture. They have legumes now on 10 acres which will become the pasture for the goats and chickens. Godwin says, “We have 8 volunteers working with us, people who have been farmers and who want to be farmers.” Six are from the ages of 16-21, and the others are 40-45 years old. They cannot afford to pay the volunteers but they are given a little stipend to encourage them to return. They will have chickens and goats next year on pasture. They would like to get the farm organic certified eventually.
They have not been able to start the niche market yet. Most of the produce is given to the community of Hopkins Park in Kankakee County. They have a community center where people can go to get assistance and emergency aid. This is where the food is distributed. They have to have a fence around the farm because it is in a residential area and this has delayed them from getting animals. They staff and participants there at UHSC remain to be excited. For the summer months of 2009 they have prepared and rendered their first fruits. The “fruits” consisted of: 1500 lbs. of tomatoes, 500 lbs. of okra, 1000 lbs. of peppers, and 500 lbs. of cucumbers. As a result of the production, coupled with additional team play and active services (rendered through The University of Illinois Extension Offices of both Chicago, Illinois and Hopkins Park of Kankakee County), UHSC is proud to “shout out” that low income, no income and needy populations have benefited from the same harvest. 600 needy families were addressed and consulted. In their findings, these same families suffered from either no-income, low-income and/or poor money management. Initially, while they had noticed that incentives were up-building, “head on” UHSC took the opportunity to coordinate and interject strategies aiding such people informing them as to the benefits of organic farming and healthy eating choices. While the sessions were mandatory, clients were rewarded with baskets of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs.
Right now they are linked up with an existing market but they will try to establish markets in Kankakee and Chicago. In Chicago, they plan to establish a little farmers market. The intention is to particularly encourage youth in rural areas and show them the need for farming and how to produce healthy food practically.