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.

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