Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Illinois Vegetable Farmer Named Finalist for National Award

An Illinois farmer who values harmony with nature and community has won a national award, The Patrick Madden Award for Sustainable Agriculture in the north central region.

Henry Brockman operates an intensive, multi-generational, highly-diverse and sustainable vegetable production in the Mackinaw River Valley of Woodford County, IL.

This $1,000 award for farmers and ranchers who raise food or fiber in ways that are profitable, good for families and communities, and beneficial to the environment is presented by the USDA’s North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) program.

Brockman specializes in biodiversity planting more than 600 varieties of more than 100 distinct vegetable types on his Illinois farm, Henry’s Farm. 550 different items were in Henry’s Farm’s 2007 seed order. His operation provides produce to families in the Bloomington-Peoria area with a Community Supported Agriculture initiative (CSA), and to families in the Chicago area with a stand at the Evanston Farmers Market.

The organic certification process is something that Brockman values, especially for beginning farmers. “I always encourage other farmers to become certified until they can create a market for themselves like I did. I see certification as a way to substantiate what you’re saying about your products,” said Brockman.

“I was certified for the first 7 years, until 2000, with Organic Crop Improvement Association. When the USDA took over the certification process, it became a little confusing, and I dropped my certification,” explained Brockman.

“After I dropped out, I didn’t get back in to certification because by that point I was already established in the in my market as an organic farmer, and I was too busy to do all the paperwork. For me, it wasn’t that I didn’t agree with the USDA’s organic standards. It’s still on my to-do list to become certified again.”

Henry’s Farm is a busy and interactive place. Three generations of family can be found working at Henry’s Farm – from Henry’s parents, to his wife and their three children, to assorted brothers and sisters and cousins and nieces and nephews. This is in addition to farm hands, apprentices, and interns. Brockman’s parents, Herman and Marlene Brockman, bought some land in the 1960s and raised their 6 children there, and that land what was to become part of “Henry's Farm" is today.

“I grew up on a small farm. My parents had about 50 acres, and while my father wasn’t a ‘farmer,’ we raised all of our own organic produce and meats. In my family, it’s a given that you help each other out with the garden and the animals,” said Brockman.

Brockman’s children, ages 13, 14, and 17 are involved on the farm today, just as Brockman was when he was younger. “I think it’s important for kids to be involved in what their parents are doing – it’s good for them physically, and teaches them about responsibility. It gives them an advantage out in the world; it makes it easier for them to adapt to new situations and accept responsibility.”

In Brockman’s 2006 printed piece, Organic Matters, Brockman talks about the role of biodiversity in sustainable agriculture: “The goal of my way of farming is not only to enhance the lives of the crops and those who eat them, but to enhance all life, from the lives of the insects, worms, and arthropods of the vegetable field to the lives of the wildlife and domesticated life (that includes us) who inhabit the environment around the field. And on a grander scale . . . [to] enhance the very life of the planet by protecting a piece of it and by not polluting the planet’s water and air.”

Organic Matters has been included the curriculum at Illinois Wesleyan University and at Prescott University in Prescott, AZ, and Bon Appétit Management Co. purchased 1,500 copies for educational purposes.

“Henry lives each day at the intersection of the natural and the human environment, and takes very seriously his duty to the complex natural environment and to the next generation. He works each day to conserve and enhance things of immeasurable value: biodiversity, wildlife habitat, water quality, agricultural land, family farms, rural communities, local economies, local food sources, rare plant varieties, and of course our soil, air, water, and open space,” said Brockman’s sister, Terra Brockman, who works at Henry’s Farm.

Brockman was surprised to hear that he had won the Madden Award, and was modest about the honor.

“There are so many good farmers making a large impact out there,” said Brockman. “I certainly wasn’t expecting this at all. The truth of the matter is that any success I've had in farming and life is due just as much to the help of my extended family as it is to my own efforts.”

The $1,000 award will be presented at the final plenary of SARE's 20th Anniversary New American Farm conference, to be held March 25-27, 2008 in Kansas City, MO (see for more conference details). Three other Madden winners, each from SARE's remaining regions -- Southern, Western and Northeast -- will also be receiving awards at the conference.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

"Farm to Family Connection" radio project tunes in to agriculture

In a rare opportunity, farming families are increasing awareness about the diversity of agriculture in the listening area of KK93 FM radio in Yankton, SD. They hope to increase their listening base with new broadcasting hours starting next week.

The "Farm to Family Connection” radio program, originally funded, in part, by the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (NCR-SARE) in 2004, has been sharing with listeners the family farm stories of locally raised food and farm products available within driving distance.

Using contacts already established through the advertising program at KK93, Curt Arens (Crofton, NE), received help early on from Gary Cwach (Yankton, SD), and Kenard, Chris, and Steve Kreycik (Niobrara, NE) to start the radio program.

They sought out program guests and new prospective business sponsors to support the show so that it could be aired during prime commuter times for people traveling in Yankton and surrounding areas.

Arens recalls the first time they broadcasted the program: “The first time I sat down to the microphone, my hands were shaking and my voice was crackling. Over time, fortunately, this plain dirt farmer became a little better at the nervousness part of it, primarily due to the patience and friendliness of the radio station staff.”

“You have to understand, that it is rare, very rare, that a radio station would take on such a local and targeted project as this one. So when we walked into KK93, we found a gem. The folks there have been awesome.”

Arens was selective about sponsors. In deference to the organic farmers featured on the show they avoided seed and chemical companies that only wanted to promote those products or GMO seed.

Farmer participation on the radio show was vital to the success of the programming, but has been a challenge for the team. “Finding farmers is somewhat difficult because we like to feature farmers who don't have a big operating budget for advertising and need help getting the word out. That's why we keep their portion low at $60,” explained Arens.

Survey results from farmer participants on the radio reveal that sales for them have increased around 5 to 20 percent because of their radio program.

“This tells us that farmers should not expect a big response from being on the show once in a year,” explained Arens, “but if they work to develop a promotion that we can use seasonally, maybe four times a year, the results definitely have paid off the very minimal $60 fee to be involved.”

Although the program has been funded by corporate business sponsors since the original SARE grant ended, the group appreciated the footings SARE provided. “We believe that the SARE program is a wonderful way to fund ‘real’ farmers and their ideas in a variety of areas,” said Arens.

Tune in to Farm to Family Connection’s new broadcasting times on Thursdays at 9am and 4pm on KKYA, 93.1 FM, Yankton, SD, or visit their web page Yankton area writer and publisher, Loretta Sorensen, is the new voice of “Farm to Family Connection,” while Arens maintains the web site.

Arens’ continued commitment to sustainable agriculture has always been the heart of the project.

“We promote the little guy,the farmer with the big idea, but with a small advertising budget. We promote local economic development, by encouraging people to purchase food without frequent flier miles - the stuff raised with care by your neighbors down the road - the folks you know and trust. That is true food security, because if you know your farmer, then you know your food.”

With a grant from W.K. Kellogg, Arens hopes to expand the concept. “Using the Kellogg grant funds, we are developing a toolkit, so that farmers and radio stations elsewhere can start their own local radio show and website campaign for local food,” said Arens.

Since 1988, the SARE program has helped advance farming systems that are profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities through a nationwide research and education grants program. The program, part of USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, funds projects and conducts outreach designed to improve agricultural systems.