HAY TLC Followers – Cassie Carroll here – your new local food and farm trailblazer! As the newest member of The Land Connection (this is my 3rd day now… maybe by the time you’re reading this it will be my 4th or 5th…), I wanted to share a little bit about who I am and why I’m SO pumped to be joining The Land Connection as the new Program Director.My father gave me the gift of love for the outdoors – the land, plants, animals, and the delicate balance of our ecosystems. My father grew up in Illiopolis, IL, working in the chicken coops collecting eggs, detassling corn in the summertime, and using the great fields of Illinois as his playground. Coming from the north suburbs of Chicago, all I knew was that food “appeared” on our plates because mom went to the grocery store – not how it was cultivated, grown or transported. Cultivating and caring for land and growing your own food was engrained deep within my dad. I continued to grow, he continued to get me engaged in our home garden and growing vegetables.
Every spring it was a guarantee that my dad could be seen with his trusty shovel tending to the garden, laying out the plans he dreamed of all winter. He taught me so many things, but the wonders of compost were his proudest- his “black gold” as he would say- and how it helped all of the plants in our yard flourish. I sometimes (and often) griped about doing the “work” part of gardening – weeding, picking up twigs, etc… but really I enjoyed every moment of having my bare feet in the grass or soil and working with him on the next project.I came to Champaign, IL in 2004 to start my undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois’ College of ACES under their Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences program. I had an incredible opportunity to study abroad in Australia, living in endless acres of lush rainforest. I found my passion in the midst of the fan palm trees and the pademelons (tiny basketball-sized kangaroos). I wanted to make a difference. I wasn’t sure how or where, but somewhere, influence change and create a better life for someone. This is where my journey and drive began.
Before calling The Land Connection my new home, I worked as an Associate Sustainability Specialist at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, which is a part of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois. I ran the Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Award program and supported the development of combined and affiliate programs under their Technical Assistance Program, working with large companies and manufacturing to integrate sustainable technologies and practices. I grew my knowledge in sustainable practices in the manufacturing sector and gained great perspective in sustainability activities throughout the state.
Prior to working for the ISTC, I co-founded and was the Executive Director for a non-profit organization, the Illinois Green Business Association (IGBA) from 2008-2014. The IGBA focused on helping the economic sector integrate sustainable practices and principles. We developed a green business certification program that could be utilized as a framework for helping companies integrate economically and environmentally smart and sustainable practices to reduce cost and waste, reducing a company’s environmental footprint. Launching the organization was a huge gamble, but one that provided an incredible, humbling, and life changing experience. I gained an invaluable amount of experience and cultivated skills that will continue to drive me in my career and beyond.
I’m also involved in a lot of organizations locally. I am a Champaign West Rotarian, Board of Governor’s Member for the University YMCA, Illinois Foodscrap Coalition Member, Green Business Engagement National Network Chair, and the Illinois State Renewable Energy Advisory Board. Most of my friends and family joke about having time to sleep (which I do.. don’t worry), but my drive to make an impact has fueled my fire to help make a difference. I also love cooking, local food, growing food, gardening, hiking and art – creating and viewing. I used to bartend at Boltini too – so if you ever need a recipe for a bomb cocktail, I’m your girl J
Through being the Program Director at The Land Connection, I feel that I have an awesome opportunity to utilize my program development, non-profit management, and sustainable business knowledge in a new and important area of sustainability – agriculture. I am thrilled to have an opportunity to learn more about the world of farming, local foods, and keep my ear to the ground on latest trends, knowledge and programs that can help farmers be more successful in our local communities. I look forward to this new journey in my career, as well as learning so many new things in this role. I truly look forward to meeting you all and contributing to the mission and value that The Land Connection brings to farmers and the local foods movement!