It’s been a slow spring in the Midwest, marked by historically wet conditions that have caused floods and delayed planting throughout the region. These effects are being felt throughout the region and beyond: flooding in the Midwest is accelerating the flow of water from the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico. The Washington Post recently reported on the connection between Midwestern agriculture and ocean health – and it’s not pretty. It’s critical that the farms in the Mississippi watershed are managed organically in order to keep our waterways clean and free from chemical runoff that will feed the dead zone. Our work throughout this region and its watershed feels all the more important, especially as we experience the more volatile weather and increased moisture climate change is bringing.
During the last week of May, a handful of Iroquois Valley staff members visited a few of the farms and families that have been a part of our story since the beginning. The field trip was a great opportunity for our newer and more remote staff to have a hands-on orientation and see the transformation happening in the Chicago-area foodshed. North Central Illinois may not be well known for organic and regenerative agriculture, but the movement is growing there quickly. When Iroquois Valley bought its first farm in Iroquois County in 2007, there were less than 500 acres farmed organically there – today, there are over 5,000. We went down to farm country to see that change in action.
The day started with a pit stop at Hewn Bakery in Evanston – Hewn supports local and organic farmers, using their flours to create delicious baked goods. Two of Iroquois Valleys’ farm families (Janie’s Farm & Meadowlark Organics) are among those whose specialty grain flours are used at Hewn. The co-founder of Hewn, Ellen King, wrote a book called Heritage Baking about baking with specialty grains and the growers who raise them.
We visited Mint Creek Farm, a diversified farm raising livestock on pasture. Mint Creek raises entirely grass-fed cattle and sheep along with pasture-raised hogs, goats, and chickens for meat and eggs. Mint Creek Farm takes inspiration from biodynamic principles that view farms as holistic organisms where the soil, the ecosystem, and the farmers work together to thrive. Mint Creek Farm is surrounded by crop operations, making its restoration of native grassland ecosystems where animals graze all the more unique. For those in the Chicago area, you can find Mint Creek at local farmers markets and attend dinners at the farm prepared by a Chicago chef. Learn more about our partnership with Mint Creek Farm by reading their farm profile here and see their farm dinner schedule here.
We continued to The Mill at Janie’s Farm, where we toured the stone ground mill and saw white winter wheat being milled into bread flour. The mill has allowed Janie’s Farm to process the grains they grow and sell a high quality, value-added product. The Wilkens raise specialty milling grains and mill them into flours that are used in Chicago area bakeries and restaurants. Learn more about our partnership with Janie’s Farm by reading their farm profile here and learn more about Iroquois Valley’s history with the Wilkens here.
We completed our farm tour at Red Barn Farm, one of the Brockman Family Farms. Red Barn Farm is home to milking goats, an orchard, and more. While we don’t work directly with the Brockmans on land access, they are central to Iroquois Valley’s founding. The Brockmans introduced our co-founder, Dave Miller, to our first farmer, Harold Wilken. For more on the history between the Brockman family and Iroquois Valley, see our newsletter on the topic. We wrapped up the day at Dave Miller’s own farmhouse in Danforth, IL where everyone contributed to a home cooked meal of soup, burgers, and cornbread made with local ingredients from some of the farms we visited.
We're often asked why Iroquois Valley invests in operations that include livestock. Animal agriculture is an incredibly complex topic and it looks different across farms and across the food system. We support farmers who raise animals in ways that regenerate our soils and our ecosystems by only partnering with farmers who raise animals on pastures managed organically.