Wednesday, April 25, 2012

U is for Uncommon Ground

Uncommon Ground (locations in Lakeview and Edgewater) is the creation of Helen and Mike Cameron.

I met Helen at the Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) roll-out party for their Healthy and Humane Farms Funds grant project, and found that Helen is just about as passionate about local foods and sustainable farming as we are at CVSF.

Uncommon Ground now hosts a monthly meat CSA  drop off at each location. In May, CVSF will provide meat for a Slow Food dinner that will raise money to send delegates to Terra Madre this fall - hopefully Beth and I will be two of thos delegates.

As you can see our community continues to grow!

T is for Tokarz

Andrew Tozarz in tradtional shepherd attire.

Just a couple of years into our farming experience, Beth and I were nearly burnt out, and we considered throwing in the towel and going back to our more conventional careers. Starting any business is stressful and time-consuming. Starting a diverse, sustainable, farm in a sea of corn and soybeans is that, plus it's lonely and isolating.

An early frost, ended our second season of vegetable CSA a couple of weeks early. To be perfectly honest, we were glad of it. That's how exhausted and discouraged we were. Fortunately, we didn't quit. Rather we regrouped and registered for our first farming conference - a CSA conference in Michigan. Although we'd beeen growing a Community Supported Agriculture business for two years and had cultivated a community of eaters, we hadn't tapped into a community of farmers.

The Michigan CSA conference showed us just how collaborative and supportive the people involved in sustainable farming truly are. Not only did we learn a lot about making a CSA work, we, also, learned that we weren't alone in our struggles. Not feeling alone was probably just as important as all the new knowledge we brought back. Beth and I credit that first conference with keeping us in farming.

Still, in our part of Illinois, sustainable farms are few and far between and staying connected in our busyness is not always easy - but it's the connections that keep us going. Over beers one night during the winter of 2008, Larry O'Toole and I concieved the North Central Illinois Farmer Network (aka greenfarmers) to make it easy for farmer like us to connect and support one another. 

So, we started a Yahoo group and invited all the sustainable farmers within a 1 1/2 hour drive to meet at a independent coffee shop in Joliet, IL, which was a central location. We asked everyone to share the invite as widely as they could. One of the farmers that came to that first meeting was Andrew Tokarz.

Andrew lives in Chicago, but he and a group of entrepreneurial Poles operate a cooperative sheep farm in Lemont, Illinois. The members of the group take turns at the farm caring for everyone's sheep (most have other jobs in the city). Andrew's enterprise is dairy sheep (& amazing sheep-milk cheeses) and Polish Tatras (a rare breed of livestock guardian dogs).

Jody with our guardian dogs - Sasha, Sophie, & Harry

At that meeting, we learned that he had a litter of Tatra pups that needed work. As we have every known predator in northern Illinois living (and eating chickens on our farm), it was serendipity. A few weeks later, Sasha and Sophie arrived on the farm. Harry was added last year. We've found them to be incredibly intelligent, friendly to our human visitors, fiercely protective of all our animals. They've definitely earned their kibble over the past four years!

Beth with Sasha.

Thanks Andrew!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

S is for SOCCER!

At Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm our farm revolves around food and soccer.

Richard in goal.

Sometimes I'm sure which one takes precedence. If you ask our boys, soccer wins hands down. It started a few years ago with Richard in a six week long YMCA indoor league (Jody coached). Since it's grown into a nearly year round endeavor. Last fall Richard joined a travel soccer club that trains 11 months out of the year - he gets July off.

Duncan (with his game face on).

Of course, Richards brother, Duncan, followed in his footsteps and started playing two years ago. Last Spring I coached Richard's junior high spring league team - CVSF sponsored the team as well.

Mendota team picture.

Earlville team picture
Duncan at practice.

Jack's first practice.

Monday, April 23, 2012

R is for Richard

Richard starting the 2nd half of a 3-0 Magic victory.

Richard is our oldest, and the only child that remembers our lives before moving to the farm. Fortunately, Richard doesn't pine for the the suburbs having become a true farm-kid. Although not as much for an impromptu hike in the woods as his brothers, Richard loves the wide-open spaces of the farm.

And, although a committed carnivore/omnivore, Richard has deep empathy for our farm animals. If one is hurt or sick, Richard is the first to help. One of our new feeder pigs recently suffered from a rectal prolapse (a very rare occurance where part of the intestine comes outside due to a genetically linked weakness). Richard was the one to help catch it and get it to "hospital" quarters for treatment and recovery. I'm happy to report that the pig has recovered and is back with his mates. When an animal dies (a rarity), Richard grieves the most.

The farm is not Richard's first priority - that would be soccer (see picture above). About a year ago, he asked if he could play soccer in college. When Beth and I had confirmed that Richard was serious and committed, we researched area Richard tried out for and was accepted by the Chicago Magic. We, also, learned that travel soccer is not cheap. Since last summer, Richard has worked in our meat chicken operation and at farmers markets and deliveries for about 150 hours above his normal chores as his contribution to his club dues. He will do so again this season as well. We are ernormously proud of Richard's commitment to his soccer dreams as well as being an integral part of our farm.

Richard getting some well earned lounge-time.

Indoor surfing


Q is for (Pat) Quinn

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn

I've mentioned in previous posts that I am a member of the Illinois Local, Food, Farms, and Jobs Council. Council members are appointed by the governor, so I've got a big official certificate signed by the governor.

In reality, I've had more contact with Lt. Governor Sheila Simon as she chairs the Governor's Rural Affairs Council and as such has taken an interest in the Food Council's work.

Lt. Governor Sheila Simon meeting with local food advocates.

Last spring, she hosted a group of local food advocates, after the Illinois Stewardship Alliance sponsored Local Food Awareness Day in Springfield which the whole Osmund family attended.

Lt. Governor with Beth and Jack

Thursday, April 19, 2012

P is for picking up chicks

Our first group of  chicks of the season arrive at the farm today!

(Beth is off to pick them up at the post office and will post pics of the process of introducing them to their new home.)

Our chicken season begins with a pre-dawn (5:15 a.m.) call from the local post office letting us know that our chicks have arrived. Yes, just-hatched chicks are sent through the U.S. mail (this practice began in the early part of the 20th century). Security concerns following the 9-11 attacks threatened this practice, but small farmers, backyard chicken keepers,  and hatcheries across the country made thousands of calls to their representatives to preserve this tradition - not to mention a lot of jobs.

Our van backed in to the loading dock at the post office.

The chicken boxes on the post office cart.

Because we pick up hundreds of chicks at a time, we just go to the back of the post office and collect the chicks from the loading dock. We've done this for a number of years, so the post office employees know us well. When Beth picked up this morning they asked, "Where are your helpers?" One or two of our boys usually ride along when we pick up the chicks. They were at grandma and granpa's house this morning.

Beth taking a couple boxes of chicks from the van.

Today's order was for 800 meat birds. That's eight boxes (100 chicks each)! As it gets hotter, the number of chicks per box will decrease. Day old chicks need to be at about 90 degrees. Hatcheries gauge packing density by predicted temperatures during shipping and are amazingly good at keeping chicks healthy. In nearly ten years of getting chicks in the mail, we've only had one bad experience - this happened when there was a sudden spring cold snap during transport.

Beth taking chicks into the brooder.

Since we've been brooding our chicks in six sided steel boxes four years ago, we've not lost any chicks to predation during brooding! Thanks Frontera Farmer Foundation for funding this project, it has certainly been successful.

A box of chicks ready to get out.

Jody showing the chicks their waterer.

When chicks arrive it is critical that they get water. We hand-dip each chick's beak into the water bowl, so they get a drink and know where the water is.

Jody demonstrating how to hold a chick safely.

Chicks at the water bowl.

A box of chicks is almost as cute as a box of kittens!

Here are chicks discovering the feeder.

O is for Osmund

This post is going to be about my dad, Richard Osmund and how important he is to our farm....I need some more time to do it justice so I'm putting this up as teaser. I will flesh it out before the end of the A-Z challenge!

N is for Noonan

Maggie Noonan and her husband Dean operate Winestyles in Evanston.

They host another CVSF drop off and are wonderful people. Dean loves our eggs, and Beth always picks up her favorite malbec (a recommendation of Dean's) when she's there for a delivery!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

M is for Marion Street Cheese Market

As the CVSF meat CSA has grown and we've wanted to add delivery sites, we've looked for places similar to where we've already had success - namely wine and cheese shops. (See my post on K is for Kellner).

One of the best in the Chicago-land area is Marion Street Cheese Market. We're proud to deliver our meat CSA to the best wines shop, cheese shop, and bistro in Oak Park, IL. We are continually impressed by co-owner Eric Larson and executive chef Leonard Hollanders commitment to local, artisansal food and sustainability.

Eric Larson

                                                          Leonard Hollander

              Leonard Hollander

Marion Street Cheese Market is a Greeen Certfied Restaurant and recently earned a three star rating (one of only three "three star" Green Restaurants in the region - we, also, deliver to one of the other 3-star rated restaurants in Chicago, you'll learn about them in a future post!)

Friday, April 13, 2012

L is for Lisa

A couple of years ago, I encouraged Beth to submit a presentation proposal to the National Women in Agriculture Conference being held in Baltimore, Maryland (this annual conference is hosted by USDA's Extension Risk Management Education service which focuses mainly on conventional producers). Women are grossly under-represented in agriculture, and women in sustainable farming are virtually unknown in convential agriculture circles.

Fortunately, this is beginning to change as Beth and other innovative farm women are stepping into leadership roles and sharing their stories. One such woman is Lisa Kivirist, whom Beth met and bonded with while in Baltimore, and on a bus ride into Washington, D.C. for the Women on Working Lands seminar.

Lisa Kivirist

Lisa, her husband John Ivanhko, and their son Liam operate Inn Serendipity , a bed and breakfast in south-western Wisconsin. Lisa and John are eco-entrepreneurs running their inn completely off the grid with integrated solar and wind power system. They, also, produce vegetables for their guests in organic garden plots.

Needless to say, Beth and Lisa hit it off and became fast friends. For the past two years, the Osmund family has joined Lisa and family for a 4th of July reunion. This past month, Beth and Lisa traveled together for the 2012 Women in Agriculture Conference where they both presented. Beth was, also, on a panel that Lisa moderated.

Not only are they innkeepers, Lisa and John are writers and educators. Their latest writing project is the local foods cookbook, Farmstead Chef. (One of CVSF's favorite recipes - Italian Sausage Risotto is featured in it.) The Inn Serendipity team are frequent farm conference speakers, and Lisa has been involved in the Rural Women's Project for the past several years.

Here is Lisa at the RWP booth at the Upper Midwest Organic Conference.

While Jody was attending workshops at the MOSES conference in February, Duncan was hanging out with his good friend Liam.


One of the best things about being involved in the local food and community supported agriculture is the community, and our community continues to grow!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

K is for Kellner

That's Tracy Kellner of Provenance Food and Wine, in Logan Square and Lincoln Square in Chicago.

CVSF has had long relationship with Tracy and her husband Joe Patt. We first met Tracy at the Logan Square Farmers market five years ago. She was the markets cheesemonger when we started vending meats and delivering CSA shares there.

As the market season was coming to an end and we hadn't gotten all of our holiday turkeys pre-sold, we asked Tracy if she would like to offer them to her store customers. She said "Yes", and we went from there. On a cold November day we delivered turkeys - indoors- to about forty of her customers. That was a nice change from our outdoor market stall that cold fall.

Seeing the success of this venture (and the fact we hadn't really considered the logistics of delivering meat shares on brutally cold winter days or wet and dreary spring ones) we aske Tracy if she would like to host our CSA delivery as well. Again, "Yes."

When Tracy and Joe added a store in Lincolns Square, we added a CSA delivery there. Tracy and Joe are huge supporters of local foods and farmers and we're grateful for the relationship that's developed over the years. We even attended Tracy and Joe's "surprise wedding!"

It has definitely been a mutually beneficial relationship between Provenance and CVSF! We're definitely richer because of it - most of the riches are non-monetary; but the we've earned a fair number of dollars as well.

Thanks, Tracy!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for Jack

Jack is our youngest, but is quite easily the most enthusiastic about farming. A couple of months ago he told me: "Dad, when I retire from being a pro soccer player, I want to be a farmer just like you."

 Whether it's helping pick eggs, feeding the pigs or moving the cows to a new pasture, Jack wants to help. If I have tractor work to do, he rides along. When I go to pick up feed or farm supplies, Jack rides with. The whole time is filled with questions about what, why, and how we do things. In his nearly six years, Jack has absorbed an incredible amount of knowledge about our sustainable farm.

Last year, at the end of a long day in Springfield for the Local Food Lobby Day, Jack and his brothers insisted that they come along to our meeting with Lieutenant Governor Simon.

All our boys are emeshed in our farming enterprise with Jack most of all.

I is for Illinois Local, Food, Farms, and Jobs Council

Local Food Lobby Day in Springfield

Awareness and demand for local foods continues to grow across America. However, as is often the case with new trends, peoples' longing to know more about the "where?" and "by whom" of their food began on the coasts with the mid-western states lagging behind.

This Illinois' local food movement picked up the pace in the late nineties as Angelic Organics farm grew into one of the largest and most iconic CSA's in the country and nationally know chefs like Rick Bayless committed to sourcing from local farmers.

Things really took off in 2006, when Debbie Hillman of the Evanston Food Policy Council, approached then State Representative Julie Hamos (now IL director of Health Care and Family Services) about the concerns her urban constituents had about food and farming issues. From this initial discussion, legislation was drafted (titled the Illinois Local and Organic Food Farms and Jobs Act), and a statewide coalition formed to press for it's passage.

I joined the effort at the behest of Kendall Thu an anthropology professor at Northern Illinois University who had joined our CSA the previous year. I joined conference calls with local food proponents from throughout the state, called my representatives, and spread the word to all our farm contacts to support the effort. In 2007, the act passed and the Illinois Local Foods Farm and Jobs Task Force was formed.

The task force spent a year working on a comprehensive document to present to the legislature that detailed the state of local food in Illinois and recommendations for building the local food economy in Illinois. In 2009, the report generated follow-on legislation establishing the Illinois Local, Food, Farms, and Jobs Council.

I have served as a council director since 2010.

Monday, April 9, 2012


Ten years ago, when we were starting what we thought was the only Community Supported Agriculture vegetable farm in  LaSalle county, another farm was getting theirs in the ground as well. That farm is Growing Home Farm (aka Les Brown Memorial Farm) in Marseilles, IL just 13 miles east of Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm.

Larry O' Toole

It wasn't until our second season that we were made aware of Growing Home (G.H.). One day, a CSA member brought Larry O' Toole with him when he came to pick up his weekly box of vegetables. Meeting another sustainable vegetable farmer in the endless desert of corn and soybeans was a breath of fresh air, and the beginning of what continues to be a fruitful collaboration between our farms - that continues today. (In fact, I when I finish this post, I'm going out to till compost into our small garden with a tiller borrowed from G.H.)

Over the years, Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm has done A LOT with G.H. We've hosted trainees on our farm, helped put in transplants there, shared seed orders, eaten potlucks, complained, commiserated, and celebrated with Larry an the G.H. staff.

After hurricane Katrina (and the less well know but equally devastaing Rita) I and two staffers from G.H. traveled to southwest Louisiana to volunteer for two weeks. We left just after Thanksgiving 2005, for New Iberia where the Southern Mutual Help Association had a bunkhouse for volunteers set up in a church building. The multiple skills required for farming translated very well to helping with the storm recovery.

In 2008, upon our return from vacation in Texas, our walk-in freezer failed. We called G.H. for help. Larry and a crew of four others showed within an hour and helped move everything to alternative freezer storage. It is not a stretch to say that GH save our business that day! We're grateful to have G.H. as part of our community.

Friday, April 6, 2012

F is for facebook

Admittedly, this post is a bit disjointed...I'll work on it in the coming days. If you have some "clarifying" thoughts, please leave them for me...

I'm a "long-form" consumer of information. I read books, listen to National Public Radio, and enjoy meandering, in-depth, conversations. Unfortunately, we live in a short-form world that requires information in smaller chunks. Also, time constraints limit our ability to put out a lot of long-form information.

At Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm we try to give a combination of short and long-form information.  Our website has a number of pages where people can dig in and learn a lot about our farm and how our community support agriculture program works. This blog allows us to take a bit more time and delve into issues of farming and community and sustainability more thoroughly. We publish a monthly electronic newsletter that gives a snapshot of what's going on at the farm as well.

But, we've found that people like to get a picture of daily life on the farm. For that, we have a facebook page. Although, not social media experts, we enjoy posting pictures and links that relate to the farm. Plus it's interactive, with fans giving feedback, almost, in real-time. I know, once we get comfortable with our Twitter feed, it will be. Until then, facebook is a good way to connect with our community.

We're all about local food, so I'm amazed at the reach of this blog and the facebook page. It took me awhile to wrap my head around having fb fans in Iran and blog readers in New Zealand; but a fan pointed out that  "food and farming are such a universal concern." She's right, of course. The agriculture decisions made here in north central Illinois and the decisions made in Brazil and Niger and Thailand have global implications. Animal confinement in northern Europe? Palm-oil plantations in Indonesia? Super market or farmers market?

We're all inter-connected, and we're under a lot of pressure. The choices we make in the next few years, will have a huge impact on what the world looks like in 30 years when we have another 2 BILLION mouths to feed. I have a vision of a world where nutritous food and clean water are basic human rights and biological diversity in crops and livestock are tenets of a healthy ecology.

American farmers have bought into the concept that they "feed the world." I reject that premise and seek world where people are empowered to feed themselves, locally. Blogging, and fb allows me to connect with people who share this vision in all parts of the world - so we can work together to make it happen and change the world.

If you like to add to this effort, "like" us on fb and share this blog with your friends!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for....

Sustainable farming evokes pastoral images and often romantic notions of being balanced and in harmony with the land and it's ecology. Don't get me wrong, on our best days at Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm we enter a blissful state of flow that seems to exist outside of time. It's exhilarating; and, ten years in, this happens more and more often.

That's not always the case, sometimes there's a there's pressures, pushes, and pulls of time, of family, of deadlines, of weather, of bills, of .... that make our usually elastic bands of resilence brittle and ready to snap. It's at times like these that we have to dig down and find the strength and courage to - ask for help.

One of the times we needed help was when we were applying for our first Frontera Farmer Foundation grant. Part o f the application is tax returns and financial information including the current years taxes. When we applied January 31st was the application deadline. This was a tight turn around for us to get our taxes completed and the financial statements we needed were new to us (My degree is in English, and Beth's is in Education, so finance is not a strong suit).

We'd done our own taxes for the first couple of years on the farm - Beth was still teaching and the farm business was pretty small and seemed simple. In our third year, we decided to have our taxes done professionally by a CPA that neighboring farmer recommended. Unfortunately, his expertise seemed to be even less than ours. With the Frontera deadline looming, we felt overwhelmed; but Beth thought of a solution. A good friend of her's from high school (and a "farm-girl"), Carrie Echols, had her own CPA practice locally.

So, we reconnected with Carrie. She understood farm taxes and accounting and was willing to learn about our unique (community supported agriculture) business approach. Carrie worked with us to get everything completed by the deadline and has been our accountant ever since. It's liberating to know that we don't have to have all the answers and a comfort to have experts we can turn to when we need help. Sustainabilty is NOT about being totally self-sufficient; it's about cultivating and encouraging interdependent relationships that strengthens the whole system.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

D is for Duncan

An A-Z blog theme on our farm's community needs to include some mention of family. Today, I'm going to introduce you to Duncan. He is our farm's naturalist and the one who always up for a walk in the woods or explore the creek. This week, he was hanging out/helping me trouble-shoot a shorted out electric fence.

As I worked, he climbed trees and explored. Walking along the pasture's edge, I told him that the best place to find night crawlers was under old cow pies. So, we started to turn some of them over. Not only did we discover worms in the well rotted manure but many other living things from fungi to grubs to a sprouted honey locust seed (the cows eat the pods in the fall and deposit the undigested seeds all around the pasture - a perfect seed starter medium).

Yesterday, we ate a salad that Duncan had foraged with Beth and his little brother, Jack. The salad included water cress that grow along one of the many natural springs on farm, and sorrel a perrenial that is great as a cooked green (scrambled eggs and sorrel is favorite of our friend John Breslin) but works in a salad when the tender leaves are picked. It's so gratifying to have our kids so connected to our farm way of living.
 Duncan is a Lego designer as well - hopefully those design skills will translate into useful stuff for the farm as he gets bigger!

Here, he takes a break with Beth on a recent trip to the Field Museum.