I will start by giving a condensed, relevant version of my life and who I am, as seen through my own eyes. In a third page, I will convey the “why” of my sense of duty, as well as the incessant demand that is self-imposed: An immediate and continual growth and development of the fulfillment of my passions.
What are my passions? Increasing demand and infrastructure for local, sustainable foods, Food Hubs, economic development, beginning farmers, Farm to School, School Gardens, heirloom varieties of foods.
Who I am: I’m just a regular guy in my mid-thirties, complete with a family that is much like many others–the good, the bad, and the ugly all exist or have existed in my life to some degree.
I was raised primarily in Central and Southern Illinois, as well as (mainly) the Western portion of Indiana. I currently reside within the City limits of Casey, Illinois, in Clark County, which borders Vigo County in Indiana.
In my quite average, yet extraordinary lifetime, Martinsville, Neoga, Marshall, Marion, Garrett, Mattoon, Carterville, St. Francisville, and a few other villages, towns, and smaller cities in the Southern half of Illinois have been home–or at least my residence. Additionally, Vincennes, Terre Haute, and Huntington, Indiana have been home, as well. My travels have led me to experience portions of the South and deep South, as far East as Virginia, and even Death Valley, California. A handful of other U.S. States have supported my feet in my minimal travels…but a vast majority of my life experiences have occurred within 150 miles or so of where I now sit.
In a nutshell, that’s me. I have been classified as a “hick,” a “redneck,” a “rebel,” a “geek,” a “bad boy,” and even “crazy.” At times in my life, I have even been called “overdressed and snobby,” an “over-achiever,” an “underachiever,” and a “know-it-all.” I have been classified as “intelligent, yet lacking street smarts”…and vise-versa. At times in my life, each and every one of these classifications were quite true. I can never point accusatory fingers at another without pointing three back at myself.
I have observed, led, and followed. At this point in my life, I am most content when leading, provided I am the best-suited leader among any given group. However, I will follow when presented with evidence that it is best–that someone else is better suited for the position, more knowledgeable, or more apt at whatever project is underway. Lacking that knowledge, however, I tend to attempt to lead nowadays, sometimes with a great end-result and sometimes…not-so-much. This has not always been the case, yet life events seem to have formed me into such a person. I am your average human, complete with strengths, weaknesses, and faults.
To steal a quote from my Aunt Jake, “My goal is to learn, but my purpose is to teach.” I have learned a great deal regarding local foods and Food Hubs, and whether the word “teach,” “advise,” or simply “share” fits the best, I will do so to the best of my abilities.
I will also briefly list my own paper-based and personal credentials. I will not list every accomplishment in my life–just some of the things that show that I have at least a base knowledge upon which to build.
I have raised livestock and had vegetable gardens from my earliest memories, and for the majority of my life, at least when it was possible to do so.
- I began selling food from our garden (almost a small field) at the age of eleven. assisted at times by my brother. In addition to selling our own fresh produce products, we consigned and/or purchased food from neighbors, family, and friends for our extremely successful small stand. This was the first season that we (via my father and his truck) began traveling to the Sullivan, Indiana area for our melons. (I will attempt to explain the importance of this and subsequent seasons on the next page).
- Throughout High School, I was very active in the FFA. I was also a member of FBLA and inducted into NHS, but the FFA is what held my interest. I kept a record-book or two each semester–one for livestock and one for produce. I participated in livestock and grain judging contests (sometimes earning accolades), and I regularly served in one office or another.
- From post-graduation until 2010, I continued to garden and raise livestock as I was able, always falling within the definitions of “hobby farming” or “small farming” throughout this time. In addition, I distributed local foods, primarily (but not exclusively) focusing on melons and pumpkins. Roadside Stands, Farmers Markets, and front-yard setups were the sole methods of sale. Obviously, this was not a full-time career very often. During this timeframe, I earned a Certificate in Horticultural Science, focusing on Greenhouse Operations primarily. Most importantly, I learned, growing upon the conviction which is referenced in number 2 (above).
- In 2011, I left a career position to fulfill my duty, albeit very ignorant as to how I would accomplish this. From my pickup truck and a small trailer, I stepped up on local food distribution. I focused on direct-to-consumer sales almost exclusively, only approaching a single grocer and a few small restaurants when spoilage was a risk. I operated with absolutely zero infrastructure, yet was quite successful.
- In 2012, I diversified quite a bit further. I planted three acres of pumpkins on leased land–which was ultimately lost to drought. In addition, I began focusing on the wholesale marketplace locally. Between late June and Labor Day, I conducted business with twenty local grocers, at least six restaurants, wholesale-to-retail vendors, and a local auction. I quit the melons too early, I later found out. Following a loss of my own pumpkin patch and a bad purchase from a large farm that lacked in the area of ethics, I had to step out of the grocery arena. The season was finished out with consigned pumpkins that originated locally and were placed in the yards of local friends and family members. The season was a great success! Once again, I operated with zero infrastructure, leasing all of the equipment that was used.
The last year characterizes the huge steps that led me to where I am here, now, today. I will outline the reasoning behind these steps in more detail on the next page, but I will now provide a few of the credentials, experiences, and ongoing steps that are being taken that, hopefully, will cause readers to sift through my messages and find something of assistance:
- Illiana Ag Alliance is now registered as the furthest downstate Food Hub in Illinois, as per the National Good Food Network, a Wallace Center at Winrock International collaboration. (See ngfn.org or foodhub.info). This enables access to the Community of Practice among Food Hubs and the Hub of Hubs, as well as myriad webinars and other resources.
- I am a Produce Industry Member, meaning that the FDA sends updates via email on almost every issue regarding the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
- Illiana Ag Alliance is a registered Farm to School wholesale provider of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables.
- Illiana Ag Alliance receives AMS Commodity Procurement Requests on a regular basis.
- I am a Commercial Dealer of drop-shipped irrigation products.
- I am a Commercial seller of 103 varieties of seed, primarily heirloom, originating from only the best-reviewed seed companies throughout the United States and Canada.
- I have earned a GAPs and GHPs (Good Agricultural/Handling Practices) Training Certificate from the University of Illinois.
- Safety Plans have been developed via a simple, free online resource that meet and exceed legal and proposed legal requirements.
- Links to industry-leading resources regarding the most effective traditional and organic practices for the aforementioned seed and other locally-grown crops are among my myriad bookmarks.
- I have long since lost count of the number of seasonal recipes that my wife and I have collected.
- I am a Level 2 – Registered Farmer with the USDA, providing access to resources than the general populace is unable to reach.
- I have attended the Networking Across the Food Chain conference, The Edible Economy Project’s Central Illinois Food Hub meeting, Wabash Valley Food Hub Advisory Committee meetings, and a handful of meetings held at the local University of Illinois Extension.
- I have attended a handful of School Garden webinars, and have links to all of the webinars, hosted by EdWeb (a collaboration of the National Farm to School Network and the NGFN).
- I receive Office of Communication updates that include pesticide updates, funding opportunities, and much more.
I could add so much more here, yet I think the point is clear–I can assist the local foods movement, and I desire to do so.