Update (3/13) – We had a great time at Blue Island Beer Company today, lots of interest! We’ll be kicking off the new delivery location there in April. Sign up is available now – the schedule will be updated soon.
Coming Back to the South Side
This is the place it all started for Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm.
For those who are familiar with neighborhoods on the south side of Chicago, this iconic image is the Givens Castle in Beverly. It’s also the home of the Beverly Unitarian Church. Early in 2003 when Beth and I were working to sell vegetable CSA shares for the first season of our farm, we were contacted by a member of the the church’s Green Sanctuary Committee to see if we would be interested in deliver shares to the church. We said, “sure…” Catherine had seen our listing on the fledgling Local Harvest website. We scheduled a presentation and promptly signed up 15 members to pick up at the church after services on Sundays. This was a big deal for us as this was our very first season offering CSA shares. For our new members, it was a giant leap of faith as this was our first season offering CSA shares. I remember Catherine saying, “we WANT to support new farmers, that’s one of the reasons I contacted you.”
I’m happy to say that their faith was not misplaced. Those early members have become good friends and are still supporting our farm. Beverly friends include Jeremy, Laura, Linda (and her dearly missed husband Bill), Fran, Michael, and of course Catherine.
Our farm, changed and evolved over time. Three years in, we pulled back on city and suburban deliveries to focus on local shares and markets. Our presence in Beverly waned. Our family grew.
We added livestock to our operation.
When we returned to the city at the Logan Square Farmers Market, some of our Beverly members followed us there. In 2007, when we started the first Meat CSA in Illinois, we returned to Beverly. This time our delivery host was a coffee shop a few blocks from the castle. Unfortunately, the effects of Great Recession hit the the neighborhood hard and when the coffee shop went out of business and we just didn’t have enough members to justify looking for another delivery host.
A lot has changed since we started the farm…
One is going from lonely vegetable farmers surrounded by a sea of corn and soybeans to CSA farmer mentors, collaborators, supporters and educators. Our friendship with another CSA pioneer, Larry O’Toole grew out of this. Unbeknownst to us at the time, Larry started Growing Home’s CSA in 2003, too. His was the second CSA in LaSalle county (at the Les Brown Memorial Organic Farm in Marseilles). We say we were the first as our delivery season started a week or two before his. It wasn’t until the end of our third season that we met Larry. A CSA members introduced us. It took 3 years to meet our nearest CSA neighbor, just 15 miles from our farm.
Another is the growth of urban farming. Not surprisingly, Larry is a pioneer there as well. His BIOS (Blue Island Organic Sustainable) Farm brings us back to the South Side. Larry and his partner, Joe O’Meara have farm on land along the Cal-Sag channel. The have a vegetable CSA that delivers to the Blue Island Beer Company.
We’ll be there March 13th for the BIOS Farm community potluck. If all goes well, we’ll be there monthly delivering our meat CSA shares – a meat share is a monthly selection of ethically raised (small-scale, access to pasture, no drugs, hormones beef, pork, chicken, and eggs (seasonal).
It will be nice to be on the South Side again. We’ll be coming full circle. This weekend, I’ll be at the Faith in Place winters farmers market hosted by the Beverly Unitarian Church! We’ll be selling meat by the cut and promoting our new delivery in Blue Island.
We’ll be collaborating with Larry, again. I don’t know how he feels about it, but it’s very gratifying that his partner Joe O’Meara got his start farming with farmers that had been mentored on our farms. Alex and Alison of Radical Root Farm got their start leasing land and learning from Larry. Chris of Tempel Farms Organics, built chicken tractors at a CRAFT field day on our farm.
The Work Continues
For the past fourteen years, we’ve been working to increase awareness of local food and the importance of community support for local farms and local economies. I’m happy to say that awareness and support is growing. Over the past decade, craft brewing has exploded. This is in large part because people want high quality, local products that they can enjoy with their family, friends and neighbors. Whether it’s Revolution Brewing in Logan Square Begyle Brewing in Ravenswood or the Blue Island Beer Company, these craft breweries are located in and supported by communities. We’re looking forward to building community in Blue Island as we collaborate with and benefit from the efforts of BIOS Farm. Please join us there!