In 2013, when I was an intern at this organization, we worked in a shared office space, in a cramped back room with three laptops perched precariously on two desks. Terra, Cara, myself, and another intern, focused our attentions mainly on putting on the “Look Who’s Knockin’”/”What Will Be Your Legacy” farmland transition plays around Illinois and the Farm Fresh Now! Recipe series. The other intern, Amanda and I were also just getting started in building TLC’s social media platforms and tracking their growth. Emma Lincoln, a dear friend of the organization, was working with Cara to teach our Farm Dreams workshops and our yearly Central Illinois Farm Beginnings course. I didn’t know the organization well enough to know it back then, but we were barebones and struggling.
After the offices moved to Champaign, however, it was like everything clicked into place. Cara and Terra hired new staff and just like that, TLC had a new life. When I came on the team in July of 2014, TLC was already planning and organizing new farmer training workshops focused on social media outreach and teaching farmers about legal issues. There was a new website, with more features and designed to fit the needs of the organization and start building an aesthetic brand for The Land Connection.Throughout that year, we continued to grow our farmer training program, featuring a variety of new workshops for farmers of every level of experience and community members who wanted to learn more about living sustainably and supporting the local food movement. I gained knowledge about things that I never even knew existed while learning skills that I didn’t even know I was capable of. From organizing on-farm events to simply managing our accounting system, I gained so much from simply being thrown into an organization that was sprouting up at an alarming rate (and consequently going through some growing pains). By the end of that year, we had put together the data and design elements necessary to send out a beautiful end-of-year appeal to all of our supporters and raise the capital we needed to ride the momentum of our growth.
And that we did. So in 2015, we started a farmers market. With only about 2 months of preparation, we jumped into the project, hired our Market Manager, Sarah, and rolled out a brand new market to help our farmers grow their business and bring food to the community members. In our very first year, we were dedicated to ensuring that ALL families would have access to the fresh, healthy foods that we were bringing to the city, so we got set up to accept SNAP benefits, and even put together a doubling program funded by the support and sponsorships of local businesses. All this while we continued to expand our farmer training courses and our educational outreach. We went back to our Farm Fresh Now project of 2013, and got all of those recipes printed to hand out to the community so that no one felt too intimidated by the vast variety of veggies offered to them. And then, despite the setbacks and mistakes, we powered through our first year, and made the market a success.
Oh and did I mention, we also took over Porkapalooza that year? That was a blast. We ended the year with another community outreach event, a Holiday Party to thank all of you, our supporters once again for all that you’ve helped us accomplish. We’ve seen our following grow through our social media and the activities on our website. We have also established invaluable relationships with local businesses and organizations and wouldn’t have been able to accomplish any of it without their support.
So now here we are in 2016, almost three years since I began my work with The Land Connection. We’re in the midst of our second season of the Champaign Farmers’ Market. We’ve created a whole new batch of Farm Fresh Now recipes for the community. Our farmer training programs have expanded even further to include grain farmers and guidance for transitioning to organic production. We’ve hired more staff, and are continuing to evolve as we look to replace both Jeff and I in the organization. I have been proud and excited to be a part of this organization as it has grown. I could not be more grateful for all that I have learned from the farmers I have met, the people I have gotten to know, and my coworkers who have worked by my side, encouraging me to do more, learn more, and grow more. As I take this next step, I know that I will always benefit from the confindence and knowledge I have gained from working here. And even as I say my goodbyes, I look forward to watching The Land Connection change and grow without me – I can’t wait to see what amazing work they will do next!