The Farm Bill, the Produce Rule, and Illiana Ag Alliance

The Four Hour Workday…. 

I have published elsewhere about my being referred to this book (thanks L.A.). I listened to the YouTube audio a few times, learning and forgetting to listen equally. The truth is that the lessons I gleaned may or may not have been those intended. Patience and…well, that is about all I remember. I still am not that guy that can stop the grinding of the brain-gears easily, but doing the right thing helped.

Before I go into a lot of detail about the Agriculture Act of 2014 and how it impacts the movement here, I must make a confession: I tried to walk away again. I did. I also failed…those gears are connected to my heart somehow. There is more to the story than that: My son was born prematurely, I landed a great career position in my hometown…many personal occurrences…and yet, I am here blogging with a smile. I still have a duty and an amended plan on fulfilling said duty.

To quickly summarize the reference to the proposed Produce Rule: It’s perfect…at least from my vantage point. Perfect, however, is to be interpreted as “the best that one could hope for when others with varying agendas are involved.” All of the major aspects of the proposed rule were covered in their entirety by the GAPs Training provided by the University of Illinois Extension last year. Illiana Ag Alliance is poised to exceed all requirements!

The above link to the 959-page Farm Bill is…dull reading? I have not yet parsed down the exact verbiage. National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition summarizes and breaks down the bill well. I will leave the reading of the synopsis to those interested in following the preceding link. I will instead focus on what is going on here currently, what is probable, what has changed, and what is still standing strong from the preliminary plans that have developed and evolved over time….

Setting up/keeping shop in Casey, Illinois, is changed. This is almost home…a mere six miles away. However, it’s the people and the municipality that spur the change. It’s the school system, the town’s dynamic, and the fact that the town of 1,300 individuals is where it all started for me. Mostly, it is the fact that Martinsville, Illinois is my home at heart. Shortly, it will be my home by location, also….

I will begin expounding here, with the forthcoming 6-mile move. As some may know, my new career position is with a family-owned company that has been a cornerstone of Martinsville’s economy and sustainability since 1898–providing fair wages, implementing a system of impeccable ethics, and offering an opportunity for many successes within, outside of…and very much in line with Illiana Ag Alliance’s goals today. We share values, and that is irreplaceable.

I had not yet read about this Farm Bill (truthfully, I had no clue that one was finally nearing completion) until today. However, it seems that legislators heard my prayers in so many ways. A Farm-to-School Pilot may be the best part. I have already spoken with a School Board member and two teachers, and I hope that a presentation is able to be added to the next Board Meeting Agenda following my request.

Other initiatives, such as expanding local food initiatives to include aggregators, are great to read about. The NSAC synopsis (above) mentions a grocery initiative. Leonard, the owner of Martinsville’s grocery store, is prepared to ally with Illiana Ag Alliance as a provider of source-identified local foods. There are still the other 20+ local/regional grocers and ? restaurants that desire local, sustainable food…but the in-town option helps fill the void left by the recent absence of a Clark County Farmer’s Market. Markets outside of Clark County and adjoining Counties are now in the “local melon/pumpkin-only” category insofar as planning is concerned for the forthcoming season.

I heard about the signing of the Farm Bill on my return trip to what I hope is to be my family’s new home in Martinsville. (The seller is also quite interested in furthering the local food movement). Our potential home sits on two lots…one with the house and room for a greenhouse, and one with an approximately 40’x100′ machine shed. Yes, a machine shed…destined to be the aggregation and wholesale distribution point for local foods. How? Truthfully, I’m not sure. I can tell you a million possibilities, a handful of probabilities, and some definites. Instead, I will wait for the next City Council meeting before I post more. It’s still in a “Don’t count your chickens….” stage today. The short story is that a Public/Private Cooperative is to be explored. The City was willing to assist the former Farmer’s Market in almost any way, so hopes are high!

So much is missing from this post: the most local Amish community is moving away, there are many new (very local) growers, the “Seeds and Starts Campaign” is about to begin, Organic Initiatives, invitations, and so very much more. Many events are destined without dates, what is to come and what is planned always evolve…and yet it is time to bring this local–where it all began.

At this second, however, I’m off to bed. 2:45 AM comes awfully early nowadays. The next step? Well, beyond the previous highlights, procuring the other 75% of the money to purchase the home and building outright–for roughly half of its value. This means I have a lot of research and number-crunching to do quickly, while exceeding the expectations of my new position AND keeping my family life in order…but the financial outlook is so much better than when I was trying to single-handedly change the local food system mere months ago. A modestly healthy revenue stream and expanded self-imposed timeline bring much opportunity and relief!

In short, Illiana Ag Alliance and the Burson Family are alive, well, and poised to fulfill our duty. Stumbling is again giving way to opportunity, insight, and refreshed vigor!

Live well…and until next time!



Progress: Land, Growers, and Buyers…With a Shift to Sustainability Added In!

Although the up-to-date content of this blog leaves much to be desired, this does not mean that I have allowed the movement to stagnate, folks. In the past few days alone, a vertical, hydroponic, organic, heirloom, Pick-Your-Own strawberry production near Champaign, IL has been planned for next season’s growth. I’ll leave the surprise hanging concerning just what these heirloom strawberries consist of…but it will be a pleasant surprise! This operation is not for personal profit, in and of itself, yet it is not without a more localized gain. The owner-to-be of this mini-business plan is a lifelong friend from High School. In addition, he and his family own a large amount of farmland in Clark County–which they wish to begin converting to food production. It is a win-win situation, and if the end result of my efforts are as I hope, it will be a boon to the Rantoul, IL Food Hub Collaboration, as well. (Disclaimer/Apology:  I do not know if this is the correct name for the collaboration–I’m out of date in this regard)

Other large, noteworthy progressions are that of Janice and Ray Crane, Owners of Crane’s Chicken Ranch in Martinsville, IL. They have been raising chickens with antibiotic-free, non-GMO feed…and truly free-range in their style…for some time now. This year, demand greatly exceeded supply, and they are increasing their flocks. My father wishes to convert his small free-range flock to antibiotic-free, non-GMO, as well–and put his acreage to use by increasing his flock drastically. I have high hopes that Crane’s Chicken Ranch, my father, and (through the Virtual Hub) Terre Foods Cooperative can be connected in a manner that is beneficial to all involved. Supply, demand, and means all exist…it’s now a vast game of “Connect The Dots.” Given the recent occurrences within the Federal and State Governments, one could add “…in time” to that statement. In the long run, the capacity locally could overwhelm Terre Foods…but it’s a profitable, local start in this arena.

It should also be noted that my father, a disabled Vietnam-era Veteran, is almost convinced to apply for a FSA Microloan (although he really does not want to borrow from any government agency–and I do not know if the Microloan is/will be funded definitively) in order to build a greenhouse or greenhouses for Farm-to-School/School Garden use. The idea is, theoretically, that the local FFA, 4-H, and/or school Ag Programs can grow organic, hydroponic leafy greens for school use, and harvest the excess for him to have bagged and sell for his personal livelihood. His property is only about three miles from the High School in Marshall, IL, and even closer to the University of Illinois Extension. None of the above have been contacted yet…the landowner is the first to be convinced. What he (my father) lacks is money, and with a failing government he is facing a dwindling disability check. Ever since he invested his life-savings in land, he has been stripped from nearly every program that would have been accessible to him had he squandered his money on a gambling venture, etc. Some necessities and/or mistakes in legislation have terrible consequences on those that should be cared for the most…. Away from politics…not my passion….

So, where does this leave Illiana Ag Alliance, and the Brian Burson family, standing today? Well, the newest Microloan Fact Sheet includes a new clause (or one I missed last season). “…satisfactory history of repayment of debt.” Ouch. One year ago, that was not a problem for me. I had one minor bad debt, and that was an error on behalf of another. However, I did not find land or apply for the Microloan until the funding was exhausted. I self-funded, blundered, and sacrificed as an insane man would. I shot out preliminary business plans to complete strangers, quite short of what would have been considered professional and complete. I no longer show what I consider a “satisfactory history” recently. Many of those close to me thought I was insane…until the First of October and our government began teetering precariously.

When SNAP was inaccessible in early October, during the lack of a governing body, the local atmosphere took a 180-degree turn. Even my wife (my harshest opponent during the sacrifice of my family’s fortune for that of our neighbors’) agreed that I had been completely right. “It all comes down to food.”

Well, I have found the perfect, quaint little farmhouse and land to lease, opening up the Microloan…under the terms of last season. I have established connections with enough individuals that a large-scale, regional yet localized, Virtual Hub can be created. I have located the individuals within a proven company that can create this. I have thousands of bookmarks and tens of thousands of emails that can tie this together before the start of next season…if I can make the time to do all of it. None of the above were done without assistance, and all of the possibilities cannot be created without the same.  For the longest time, it has seemed like a proverbial “Catch 22,” yet maybe not. One of my bookmarks–and a chapter in one of my College textbooks–is devoted to 501(c)3 Non-Profits. I had dismissed the idea twice in the past year, yet a conversation with a highly-respected woman from Chicago has ideas rattling around in my skull again.

I will post more as this idea develops (or dies), but the preliminary idea is to form a Non-Profit for the Virtual Hub while maintaining a personal farm of my own. I want to farm, yet a Food Hub must be in place to fulfill my duty. As opposed to trying to do this all myself, I think that a member of Terre Foods (I have a founding member in mind…but I will not deign to make it my decision), a local sustainable farmer that possesses common and uncommonly good sense, a designee from Rantoul’s collaboration, a financier, and myself could serve on a Board of Directors??? Once again, not a single entity beyond myself has been approached with this idea. Much research and contact remains, yet I cannot find the flaw in the theory as of yet. I even have a handful of financiers that may just like the idea enough to run with it, once the information is disseminated clearly.

Why post the idea, if it has not been discussed? Well, my son is due to be born in two months and I need a local source of reliable revenue–therefore I perform labor for pay. I also am a full-time student. Until/unless the Virtual Hub and/or a personal farm becomes an income source, or something else comes through that opens my availability to use my brain while pursuing my passion–I’m doing what a father must.

Until next time! Pass this on, share it…whatever one does with WordPress!!!