You may have heard that I am moving on from The Land Connection and from the Midwest. I’m writing this to tell you two things. The first is just how much this work here in Illinois has meant to me, and the second is that if there is anyone out there who cares about the future of our food system like I do, you should apply for the position I’m vacating.
I had spent almost no time in the Midwest, let alone central Illinois, when I moved here in January 2014. It was a bitter winter, and after my dad braved the roads for two days with me to move out here, I did my best to settle in and get to know the place. And by the place, I really mean the people.
This was simultaneously a challenge and an opportunity in this job. I was called upon to know lots of people, but also given the opportunity to do so on a regular basis. While outreach was mentioned as a responsibility of the position, it quickly became clear that knowing the people who were a part of the food system in this region was of paramount importance to doing my job effectively.
Over the past two and a half years, this has been among the most enjoyable parts of the job, one I have tackled with glee. (Friends started making fun of me for saying the phrase, “Do you know so-and-so…?” so often in conversation.) Connecting two people, or a group of people, so they can begin working together and sharing ideas that will help create positive change in our food system is a unique aspect of this job, the rewards of which cannot be overstated.
Among all those people you meet, you get to know a smaller section quite well. Our workshop yesterday was a great example. We hold training programs big and small, and yesterday’s program, Promoting On-Farm Pollinators, was a smaller one. It was three hours of teaching, with a snack and a tour at Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery, and great presentations and expertise shared by a diverse group of speakers. But among the attendees were some of my favorites, folks who have keep coming back to our classes or with whom I’ve worked in a number of capacities since 2014.
There was Eric Marshall, a graduate of our Farm Beginnings class who has since spoken at a number of our classes, mentored other students, and been a reliable advisor on our programs while always being ready with a joke. There was Kristy Herr, whom I met in the first months of my arrival in Illinois when she reached out to us for advice on the new property she had purchased in Danville. She has since come to many of our programs while creating a place of agricultural learning in her own region and giving glowing reports about The Land Connection to her friends and family. There was Sonya Anthony, whom I first met at a Farm Dreams workshop in Decatur last year, and has since been one of my favorite people to see pop up on the registrant list for ensuing workshops, bringing along with her her exuberance, humor, and desire to improve and expand her own farm business. And there was Nathan Aaberg, my friend and colleague at the Liberty Prairie Foundation, who has been such a source of positivity, advice, and cooperative spirit in the past year.
And that was just one small workshop. That’s never minding the aspiring farmers I have gotten to know over two years of teaching our Farm Beginnings class. Spending the winter in the classroom with these folks, and keeping in touch with them as they are mentored, and start their own farms, and continue to grow, is a phenomenal privilege. You get to know people incredibly well through the class, in their capacity as growers, as parents, as children, as military veterans, as young and old, as people who have joys and pains and fears and hopes. It’s a rare honor.
And then too is getting to know the old hands. We don’t do this teaching alone, not by a long shot. We are dependent on the farmers out here who have the expertise that must be shared with others. When I put together a training program, so begin the phonecalls and emails to the many farmers I can turn to. Some of them have experience twice as long as I’ve lived, but there I am, with the phenomenal privilege to call them, ask them for their guidance, and then while we’re at it, have a few laughs and get a sense of their wisdom and know that I am of a lucky few who get to hear it.
So here’s the thing: in this job, you meet people and become a part of their lives in the best way. These people come to you because they want to become better farmers, and you meet them where they are and say, “ok, let’s get started”. The potential for the growth and success of local and regional, ecologically-minded, economically viable farming here in central Illinois is absolutely enormous, and here, feeding this growth, along with our partner organizations and the many amazing farmers, educators, and other brilliant minds that enable us, is The Land Connection. And this position, that is so hard for me to leave, is there for you now to take and to make a difference in the lives of more farmers.
Have you sent your application yet? https://www.thelandconnection.org/about/employment-opportunities