Farmer Interview - Jody Osmund - Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm

We're back! Sorry for the lack of posts in the last few weeks, we've been dealing with some unforeseen circumstances in our household. Nevertheless, we're working on getting back on track, and we have a special treat for you! Below is the first part of a two part interview with Jody Osmund of Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm. Jody wears a lot of hats when it comes to advocating for sustainable local food in our region. This first part will cover his farm specifically, and in part two you will hear him talk about his work with Band of Farmers, the Chicagoland CSA coalition.  Jody Osmund

  1. In a paragraph or two, please introduce yourself and tell us about how you became a farmer (what did you do before farming, how did you make the transition, how did your family adjust, etc.).

I grew up on a diverse grain and livestock farm - cattle and hogs, oats, wheat, hay, corn, and soybeans. My mom kept a flock of 150 laying hens and egg sales supplemented the grocery budget.  I was mostly involved in taking care of the animals, and I spent a lot of time helping in the ¼ acre family garden.

This background, however, was not a straight line to me becoming a farmer.  I graduated from high school in the middle of the farm crisis of the late 1980’s. Farming as a career looked pretty bleak, so I went off to college and a professional career.

Fast forward a decade and a half…  On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was at an apple orchard in the northwest suburbs with our almost 3 year old son for a daycare field trip.  We rode a hayrack, picked apples, drank cider, and ate apple cinnamon donuts.

On the bus ride back to the daycare, we went from the peace and joy of agricultural idyll to a reality of fear and uncertainty.  The events of September 11th were a turning point for our family. We re-evaluated our life direction and priorities. Like a lot of people, we yearned for something more simple, more tangible, more real. (My career at Allstate in e-commerce software testing and my wife Beth's professional skills training position at Arthur Anderson both seemed pretty abstract.)

When the Enron scandal caused Arthur Andersen to collapse and family land (and farmhouse) came available in 2002, it was an easy decision to move to the farm. Our suburban friends thought we were crazy – they probably still do – but were supportive nonetheless. One of our friends gifted us (thanks Vickie!) Eliot Coleman’s book, The New Organic Grower which became a much used reference and the chapter on marketing inspired us to jump into Community Supported Agriculture.

  1. Tell us about your farm, where it is located, how big it is, and what you produce there.

Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm is a few miles north and east of Ottawa, IL. The total acreage is about 90 acres, but over half of that is taken up by woodlands, wetlands, and riparian habitat. We have about 40 acres of the arable land in pasture (mixed grasses, legume, and forbs) where we raise cattle, pigs, meat chickens, layer hens, and a small flock of Navajo Churro sheep.

  1. If we were to visit your farm, what would we find distinctive or unique about it? What makes Cedar Valley shine?

We’re really proud of our farm’s biodiversity.

This diversity extends well beyond the livestock (Duroc and Hampshire hogs, Angus cattle, 8 breeds of laying hens, and Navajo Churro Sheep). Our farm hosts a number raptor species (Bald Eagles, Red Tail Hawks, Kestrels, owls), water fowl (ducks, geese, Sandpipers, and Great Blue Herons), song-birds, predators (fox, coyote, racoons, opossum, mink), herbivores (deer, rabbits, beaver, voles, gophers, squirrels), along with countless insects (including a lot of native pollinators and butterflies, some feral honeybees, and dragon flies), and incredibly active living soil. It’s much different than the sea of corn and soybeans on the farms that surround it.

The Stream

The most distinctive feature of the farm is the creek that runs through it. It is the highlight of our farm tours, provides a peaceful picnic spot, cools us in the hot summer, and occasionally provides a meal of fish for the table.

  1. Why did you decide to run a meat CSA out of your farm, as opposed to other options like vegetable farming, or selling meat wholesale to restaurants?

Actually, Cedar Valley Sustainable (CVSF) started out as a vegetable CSA in 2003. We started on 2.5 acres and increased to a maximum of 5.5 acres. We added livestock over time, started the first meat CSA  in Illinois (while serving a 70 member vegetable CSA) in 2007, and fully transitioned to meat and eggs in 2008.

  1. How did you decide to raise beef, pork, and chicken? Which did you start with and how have you scaled up production over the years?

The first animal we brought to the farm was a dairy cow. Next we added a flock of laying hens. Meat birds followed, along with more cattle and then hogs. We raise all meat chickens and eggs for our CSA on our farm, but not all of the beef and pork. Over the years we’ve developed relationships with neighbors who breed incredibly high quality pork and beef that supplement our production.

Animals

These relationships extend the scope and breadth of our work toward more sustainable farming, writ large. They also give us flexibility and elasticity to deal with the ebbs and flow of CSA membership and farmers market demands.

When we started working with pork breeders  Mark and Kristen Boe of La Pryor Farms, they were considering getting out of the pig business (commodity pork prices were very low and they were losing about $40/per pig they sold to Tyson). We helped them develop a profitable farm-to-restaurant business for their hogs and they have since started their own beef herd. They make weekly trips into the city supplying top restaurants and artisan butcher shops with their pork and beef.

Pigs

I love seeing new pig and cattle paddocks when I pick up market pigs at the Boe’s farm. They’ve moved to a more pasture-based growing since they started working with us. WIN!

  1. What’s the most gratifying part of owning and running your own farm?

Sure, I get to do physical work outside every day and produce really delicious food, but the most gratifying part of our job is the relationships – customers, CSA members, fellow farmers, food advocates/activists, friends, family, and community that are nurtured by our farm. The image of the independent farmer, alone on the prairie is an unsustainable myth of “modern” agriculture.

A farm dinner in full swing

True resilience and sustainability are supported by an inter-locking bulwark of interdependent relationships. Adding strength and branches to that weave is what Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm is all about.

Many thanks to Jody for sharing about his and Beth's lives as the farmers at Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm. Keep an eye out for a second post from him about his work with Band of Farmers - The Chicagoland CSA Coalition. We will also be preparing a post for CVSF's blog that we are very excited about, so be sure to follow us on Facebook for all the updates! 

Are there posts you would like to see from Sustainably Queer? We've got ideas for miles, but we'd love to hear from our readers first! Please let us know in the comments, on our Facebook Page, or join us in the Sustainably Queer group for more lively conversation! 

How We Do Sustainable Living - Year Two

Hello friends and readers! We have just entered the second year of this blog and another year of concentrated sustainable queerness! Last year, shortly after starting our blog, we provided you with an introductory post about why and how we live sustainably and call ourselves Sustainably Queer.  We decided that as a means of looking back and celebrating our one year anniversary, it would be fun to revisit that post.  Please find a revised and annotated version of "How We Do" below! Spoiler alert: there have been some pretty big changes!

Note: This may go without saying, but new actions/changes are listed in bold, things we are no longer doing are crossed out, and notes are in green. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions.

Projects related to housekeeping:

  • Making orange infused vinegar for cleaning   - We decided that we don't mind the smell of vinegar enough to go through this process regularly, plus the one batch I made last year lasted almost an entire year. We may do this again, but it's not high on the list.
  • Woodworking with reclaimed wood - We took one class from the Rebuilding Exchange, but we haven't continued woodworking. We still have three unfinished table tops chilling in the basement, so hopefully eventually they will become tables, but who knows when.
  • Using rags instead of paper towels - We do this as much as possible, though we still haven't found a good substitute for paper towels for draining bacon (we're going to try some of these options soon).
  • Buying post-consumer recycled paper products and aluminum foil
  • Giving away two items for every one item we bring into the house - This is still the rule, but we've been scaling way back on our buying, so sometimes we give away things even without buying something new. A larger purge is planned for early summer, so we can put stuff away without feeling cluttered about it.
  • Trying to buy things with as little packaging as possible
  • Switched to wind powered electricity (it’s cheaper too!) - Still going strong!
  • Using homemade washable swiffer pads - Love these still!
  • Recycling basically everything we can - We are planning a "How to Effectively Recycle in Chicago" post at some point, there are tricks to it.
  • Leather-working with Chicago School of Shoemaking - You can check out our blog about the experience here. We're currently saving up to take Leatherwork 201, with the end goal being saving up enough to take the Beginning Shoemaking class because, really, what's more awesome and sustainable than being to make your own shoes?!
  • Large-scale refrigerator/freezer organization - Things got real about a week ago when we bought some Fridge Binz. Yes, we try to avoid bringing more plastic into our home, but we also try to avoid wasting food. We weighed the pros and cons and decided to go with the plastic bins for now, with the idea of switching to bamboo or metal sometime in the future, if we find something that fits our needs. 

Projects related to self care:

  • Using baking soda as shampoo - It took her years, but Kristl finally figured out a way to make this work for her hair. She's planning a post on it soon.
  • Making homemade deodorant - Rachel uses this exclusively, Kristl's pits are more delicate, so she's still searching for a recipe that her skin can handle.
  • Making homemade lotion/balm
  • Making homemade facial oil blend
  • Using Chinese medicine/natural healing home remedies instead of Western medicine cures - With the addition of epilepsy to her life, Rachel is now obligated to take a Western medication to control it, but otherwise, we are mostly reliant on acupuncture, chiropractic, and herbal medicine to keep us healthy.
  • Using OraWellness tooth oil instead of toothpaste
  • Receiving acupuncture/chiropractic/massage regularly for health and balance
  • Meditation practice - We both really could stand to meditate more often and for longer, but it's still helpful even in small doses!
  • Using eco-friendly, reusable menstrual products - We're planning a post about menstrual cups and cloth pads/liners in the next few months. 

Projects related to food:

  • Making stock with veggie scraps and chicken bones
  • Saving bacon fat and using it to cook other things (like sweet potatoes, yum!) - This isn't actually a new thing, we just forgot to include it on our initial list.
  • Making staples for the week (baked/boiled eggs, congee, etc) - We still do this, though the staples themselves have changed.  Recently, we've been making a lot of breakfast bars, and soups/stews that are good for eating over 3-4 days. 
  • Making bigger batches of the meals we create so we can freeze portions for when we aren't able to cook - This has saved us on many occasions! We can pull a container out of the freezer and have it for lunch or dinner instead of going out to eat or getting takeout. 
  • Making homemade drink syrups (to flavor carbonated water)
  • Infusing liquors (vanilla vodka and ginger vodka so far) - Rachel has infused vodka with all manner of things, including pineapple, blueberries and a specific spice blend to make it taste like gin.
  • Drinking vinegars, a.k.a. shrubs  - We love a good shrub, but we make so much kombucha now, making drinking vinegar also would be too much
  • Making our own kombucha - So much cheaper than buying it!  
  • Making ricotta, yogurt, mustard, cheez-its, etc from scratch - Again, the actual things we're making from scratch has changed, but we are still committed to buying as few packaged/processed foods as possible.
  • Canning, fermenting, and dehydrating food for long term preservation
  • We bought an upright freezer - We can keep more meat and veggies in the house and put up fruit and veggies from the summer without messing with as much canning. We now have more versatility in how we "preserve" produce.
  • Bringing lunch to work/school
  • Trying to eat locally sourced, humane and organic food as much as possible
  • Signing up for CSA and egg share  - We've changed our approach on this since Rachel is in farm school this year.  We will probably have some access to vegetables that we didn't have before and hopefully we will be able to grow more than we did last year.  The egg share we had last season has been restructured to only be offered to CSA members, so we are no longer getting a carton of eggs a week.  This is kind of a relief, as at one point last summer we had 4 dozen eggs in our fridge.
  • Joined a meat and egg co-op - True Nature Foods has a relationship with a local, pastured farm where the consumer pays $60 a year for membership and is then able to order/purchase a wide variety of meat products and eggs for a reduced price.  This makes eggs cheaper than our egg share and we only have to buy them when we need them. We are doing our best to only eat meat from local, pastured, humane farms.
  • Using all of an item if we buy it, e.g. whole chicken, eating beet greens and broccoli stems
  • Choosing to eat at restaurants that serve sustainably sourced food - This is a huge consideration especially where meat is concerned.  Every choice you make about where to spend your food dollars impacts how safely and sustainably food is produced, in general. Cheaper food is almost always cheap due to government subsidies or externalities (pollution, run-off, inhumane practices, lack of oversight, diminished workers' rights, etc), higher quality food is often more expensive because care was put into it's production and little harm was done to third parties (consumers, workers, animals). Not only do you vote with your money, you also farm with your money, by proxy.
  • Participating in community food events, like the Chicago Food Swap, Soup & Bread, Good Food Festival

Miscellaneous Projects:

  • Not buying cable
  • Homemade gifts - We didn't buy any Christmas presents in 2013.  We either created or re-gifted everything we gave out or we didn't give gifts at all.  It worked out perfectly.
  • Feeding our cat and dog grain free/raw pet food
  • Using community garden plot and backyard to grow food - We just got clearance from our landlord to use some of our backyard space to grow more things.  This is a very exciting development and we are still deciding how to make it functional and beautiful.
  • Reusing jars and bottles for all forms of storage
  • Worm composting - Worms and composting took a little bit of a hiatus over the winter.  They hung out in our basement because the "earthy" smell was a bit much for us in the apartment.  The basement was cold, given our wily winter, but I have seen signs of life, so hopefully worm composting will be back in order soon. 
  • Bugeting via You Need A Budget (YNAB) - With Rachel quitting her full-time job and Kristl going through an office relocation, we knew 2014 was going to be a different picture financially.  We took the pro-active approach and started zero-sum budgeting in December with a program called You Need A Budget.  Things have been going very well so far.  We have been able to save in advance for big bills (like car insurance) and put money away for upcoming big expenses (new car?).  It's pretty awesome. They offer a free trial, so you have no reason to try it out for a bit. Full disclosure, if you sign up using the link above and subscribe after your trial ends, we'll both get one month free - it's a win-win!
  • Tithing/giving to projects and people who are trying to make the world a better place in a sustainable way
  • Kristl is moving her practice to a location with-in walking distance of our house - This exciting for all kinds of reasons, but primarily because she will not need to use the car!

Well, that's about everything, it is a bit overwhelming, but we're managing ok on a day-to-day basis.  As always, feel free to check out anything we link to and ask us more questions about the products/processes.  We are always willing to write posts based on reader interest, so if there are specific topics you want to hear more about, please let us know in the comments below!

Thank you for all your support! Here's to the success of year one, and plenty of sustainable queerness to fill year two and beyond.

Good Food Festival - Chicago: Our Overview

Selfie at the Exhibition Hall  

 

Recently, on March 14, Rachel and I went to the Food Policy Conference at the Good Food Festival, because we're giant nerds. (Seriously, we were talking about it and decided to go for it since neither of us could remember the last time we'd done anything "fun" other than going out to eat - yes, we decided going to a Food Policy Conference would be a good use of our fun money.) We opted to skip the morning symposium and arrived just after 10am to explore the exhibition floor before the first talk.

The first talk we attended was called "Urban Agriculture and Local Food Enterprises" and the panel included a couple speakers presenting on community-focused food and agricultural developments in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago.  There was also a representative from the City of Chicago's Planning and Development department.  The panel finished up with a speaker from Cleveland's Green City Growers, one of the Evergreen Cooperative's community-owned, job-creating companies that focuses on farming in their city.  The panel was illuminating and a good introduction to our day. We hope to give you a more detailed post of some of these organizations in later posts.

After this panel, we got a whole hour for lunch and some time to browse around the exhibition floor. We got a kale burger from Green Spirit, a pulled pork sandwich from Gunthorp Farms, and mac and cheese with bacon sausage from Big Fork.  We usually take the opportunity to eat meat when we can be sure of the production practices behind it, so we chose the pork and sausage because they were locally sourced from farms we trust.  The kale burger was from a small vegan restaurant in Rogers Park, and the best thing about it was the beet ketchup. Go figure. After eating, we nabbed some Butter Bella cookies for later and talked to the folks from Seeds of Change.  Seeds of Change was giving away cool bags and free grocery items, like jars of tikka masala sauce. We never say no to free food.

Seeds of Change had a #PledgeToPlant photo booth

After lunch, we went to our next panel session on "Creating Justice and Food-Secure Communities with Sustainable Methods," which featured more speakers from the south side of Chicago, working on various projects related to alleviating food deserts and giving people more agency when they are making choices about what they eat.  Most striking from this bunch was Naomi Davis from Blacks in Green, who not only gave us a full picture of their vision for a fully walk-able economy in West Woodlawn, but was also inspiring in a general sense.  Here is a quote from Blacks in Green's website:

"We serve as bridge and catalyst among communities and their stakeholders in the design and development of “walk-to-work, walk-to-shop, walk-to-learn, walk-to-play villages” within black neighborhoods...our walkable villages are designed to increase household income, by increasing the rate at which neighbor-owned businesses are created and sustained, thus keeping resident money active locally, supporting community self interests, and preserving the heritage of a place. Thus, we address the terrible triplets of pollution, poverty, and plutocracy."

Pretty inspiring, right?  I know, here in Edgewater, we have some semblance of this, especially when the majority of our work, food, and play takes place within walking distance. It's not meant to say we never want to leave the neighborhood, merely that the ideal sphere for human interaction and community building is within a 1/4-1/2 mile radius of your home.  Click through to Blacksingreen.org to learn more about their Eight Principles of Green Village Building.  Clearly, this is fodder for a whole post separate post, as well.

Fair Trade banana from Dill Pickle Co-op

Finally, we thought Rachel would find the "Good Food U - How can Chicago-area higher education support healthy local food?" session a very interesting melding of her professional interests, but about 10 minutes in, we decided to try a different session (mostly because they wanted a group discussion and we wanted to listen and learn).  We hopped over to the session on "Fair Food for Global Sustainability" just as Sharon Hoyer from the Dill Pickle Co-op in Logan Square was finishing up her presentation about Fair Trade Bananas.  We, unfortunately, missed the opening remarks from Nancy Jones of Chicago Fair Trade, but the information about bananas was fascinating (we hope to do a post about Fair Trade in the near future, but for now, check out this video about the bananas!).  Then our favorite speaker of the day, Eric Rodriguez from Café Chicago, started telling us about the issues with undocumented day workers in the Midwest and his group's initiatives to give them more agency and power to control the type of work they do.  Café Chicago is a coffee roasting cooperative based on these concepts and we are 100% hoping to sit down with Eric at some point and possibly visit their location for more information, but their website gives a succinct run-down of what they do:

Cafe Chicago Coffee"Café Chicago is a worker-made, worker-run cooperative that roasts, packages, and distributes great tasting, fair trade, organic coffee in the Chicago area. With a new model of job creation, job training, and social action that create living wage jobs and provide training in coffee roasting and cooperative management, the for-profit Café Chicago also funds the social justice organizing of Latino Union at a time of dwindling non-profit funding. "

 

 

We left that presentation feeling inspired to buy Fair Trade across the board, and if we ever need coffee, a bag of Café Chicago coffee will be the first place we turn. About four days later, we were at True Nature Foods and right there on the shelf was freshly roasted coffee from Café Chicago.  It's very exciting that organizations like this exist and that their products are readily available all over the city!

We then headed back to the exhibition hall for some serious snacking and chatting with reps from all the delightful, local food organizations and companies.  I'm not going wear out our welcome and list everyone we talked to but some highlights were The Brinery (delicious fermented veggies from Ann Arbor looking to get more into the Chicago market), Mo Rub (meat/dip/veggie seasoning from Iowa now available at some Chicago-area Whole Foods), the Illinois Stewardship Alliance (advocacy group supporting our local food system), and the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship (national group of lawyers, based at U of C in Chicago, who focus on providing pro bono legal advice and support for new business owners in the city, specifically local food businesses).

It was a very full day and we learned a lot, but the Friday version of the Good Food Festival is not for everyone.  Last year we went on Saturday, and that was more our speed at the time.  There are more booths in the exhibition hall, and the presentations are focused on topics like "Brew Your Own Beer" or "Home Butchery and Curing" or "Food Co-ops 101", that kind of thing.  It's more focused on things you can do at home and less so on things that are happening in the community and the world of urban agriculture. We're hoping to make it to both Friday and Saturday next year, if we have the energy! (Also, we didn't even mention the Localicious Party! We didn't make it this year, but hope to budget for it next year. It's a party celebrating "the farmers who grow our food and the chefs who transform it.") The moral of the story is that if you like food, the Good Food Festival has something of interest for you, so you should check it out next year!

Sustainably Queer Urban Agriculture: A New Chapter for Rachel

Image We are still doing our best to get back to a regular posting schedule, but sometimes life happens and it's very unpredictable  At the moment, no one is really banging down our door asking for MORE POSTS IMMEDIATELY (although we could probably use some additional external motivation), but we honestly do have a list of possible posts about a yard long.

We're not trying to make excuses over here, but part of the reason our whole life is in flux is that I (Rachel) have recently started an intensive 9-month program in Sustainable Urban Agriculture! It is a program called Windy City Harvest, put on through a partnership between the Chicago Botanic Garden and Daley College of the Chicago City Colleges. The classes themselves take place (for the most part) at the Arturo Velazquez Institute, a.k.a. the West Side Technical Institute. This is the program's 7th year in existence and I am more than thrilled to be a part of it. (A lot of the exciting ventures focusing on local food in Chicago were started by or employ WCH graduates, and the recently opened Eataly enterprise hired 6 graduates at the end of last year!)

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The 9-month program starts with a spring semester with intensive classroom work (learning about stuff like greenhouse propagation, botany, soil science, and systemic environmental issues) and actual farming work in the AVI greenhouse and Rodeo farm near campus. The WCH staff runs 6-7 different farm sites in the city, and part of our job as students is to prepare seedlings for those farms and assist in transplanting. All this is to say, I've already been actively involved in prepping a farm for the growing season, and it is VERY HANDS ON. (Who knew soil blocking would be so labor intensive?!! Who knows what soil blocking is besides other farmer-y types and Kristl who has been helping me study?!)

We finish the spring semester at the end of May and immediately transition into a three-month paid internship at a farm somewhere in the city (or at the Chicago Botanic Garden). This is where the rubber hits the road and you get that serious, full-time, daily experience of being a farmer. Previous sites have included City Farm (from which Rick Bayless gets a lot of his vegetables) and the rooftop garden at Uncommon Ground on Devon.

Hopefully, I will graduate in October with a full growing season of experience, a final project in the form of a full farm plan, the concrete beginnings of a business plan, and a bright, burgeoning love of all things Urban Agriculture (I already have this). So far, Kristl has called me a nerd about 1,000,000 times and has been incredibly supportive of my quest to learn how to grow all the food for the rest of our lives. (Ideally, I would be able to at least significantly reduce our fruit and vegetable budget.)

One of the primary goals of the program is to take folks with unclear career paths or a desire to improve the food system but no related skills (that's me!) and prepare them for full-time work in urban agriculture. So, a big part of the final portion of the program, after the internship, is focused on helping participants explore what that looks like for them. As you may have guessed (since I have a Masters in Education and collaborate on this blog about sustainability), my goal is to educate people about food and how to grow it. I want to find ways to teach people how to grow their own food in whatever spaces they have and become more self-sustaining in an urban environment. (I recently read a statistic that said most major cities would completely run out of food in about three days if they lost access to their usual food supplies. We need to have a back-up plan.)

My career path could take many different forms, from individual gardening consulting, to starting a small education-focused urban farm where adults could take growing workshops. Hopefully, I would be able to take my passion for food out on the streets and give people the power to impact where their next meal is coming from.  I am personally inspired by the common proverb, "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."  It seems cliche, but even a good cliche packs a philosophical punch now and then.  What good does it do for my neighbors/friends/community/city for me to know how to farm and grow delicious food when others cannot? In so many economic models, it's not wise business practice to share your secrets and your essential professional knowledge, but there is so much to lose by not sharing that knowledge when it comes to food.  The food system we have now cannot be sustained, and this queer aims to be one of the few with the know-how to pick up the pieces when it does fall apart.

Regardless of how I proceed professionally, all our friends (and readers) are welcome to contact me with questions about WCH and my experiences. If you are already planning to grow your own food and want some (almost!) expert advice, I should be able to provide it, if not for 2014, definitely for 2015 and beyond. I'm just really freaking excited about increasing food literacy and food sovereignty in Chicago, and if that excites you too, let's make a more sustainable city together!

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