Angelic Organics Learning Center helps urban and rural people build local food systems. We offer opportunities to grow healthy food and a better quality of life, connect with farmers and the land, and learn agricultural and leadership skills. The Learning Center reaches more than 2,500 people each year through our programs at partner farms and urban growing sites in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.
The Learning Center was founded in 1998 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational partner to Angelic Organics, the community supported agriculture farm featured in the award-winning documentary, The Real Dirt on Farmer John. Today, more than 1,800 families in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin get their fresh produce from Angelic Organics, making it one of the largest CSA farms in the country. Since our founding the Learning Center has become a regional leader helping urban and rural people build local food systems. We transform Angelic Organics into a living classroom for thousands of kids, adults, and families each year. Graduates of our training programs now lead dozens of new local farms. And from urban gardens to farmers’ markets, we’re preparing leaders in Chicago and Rockford to make positive food system changes in their communities.
In 2011, 2300 people attended our on-farm programs. About half are from the Chicago area, and half from the area immediately near the farm. A bit more than half are youth. Of the groups that come to the farm, 30-40% are predominantly low income.
Build Partnerships: We believe that partnerships between farmers and area residents are the cornerstone of a healthy local food system. Since our founding in 1998, the Learning Center has linked diverse communities with sustainable farms and urban gardens.
Grow Good Food: We help people understand and adopt organic and Biodynamic farming practices.
Learn from Experience: We offer hands-on opportunities that engage the whole person and provide a deeper understanding of food, farming, and the environment.
Strengthen Community Leadership: We offer learning experiences and practical resources that prepare people to create positive change in their communities.
Advance Healthy Food as a Human Right: We are working for a world in which everyone has access to healthy food and a connection with farmers and the land. All of our programs reach communities with limited resources.
We offer on‐farm programs where people have a direct experience of the Angelic Organics farm organism so that they deepen their relationship with food and farming, and gain the experience, skills, and leadership capacities to grow food, share in community, and shape agriculture in our region.
We aim to contribute to a sustainable and food-secure local economy for all through programs that connect people with local, sustainable farms. Hands-on experiences
- engage the whole person (mind, body and spirit) in the farm organism,
- deepen visitors’ understanding of how to choose and access healthy foods,
- teach skills to increase sustainable living and
- build community within and among groups.
For each program we commit to:
- provide the highest quality programs and services
- engage the whole person in relationship with land, food, farms and community
- provide a safe physical environment that is culturally appropriate, compassionate and accessible for all
- provide programs to meet the goals of groups and individuals, and to empower them (through tools of deeper understanding, practical skills, and reflection) on their paths towards transforming agri-culture and their own lives.
Through these programs, we move people towards living more sustainably, as partners with farmers. People leave inspired, having contributed to the farm, and harvested from the farm in body, mind and spirit. In accordance with their goals for coming to the farm, people have tools for better understanding of the food system, and more skills for accessing sustainably grown food, or growing and preparing their own. Our rural and urban farms are an anchor, inspiration and resource for people as they move towards a more healthy and sustainable food system.
We have a great diversity of groups that come to the farm, in terms of ages, background and goals for their experiences. We work with each group to plan a program that fits for their group and the farm in that particular season. In broad strokes, most programs include hands-on farm work; harvest and sharing food from the farm; and personal reflection.
Particular activities and programs have been developed from the intersection of our staff's creativity, inspiration from peer organizations, and the resources and needs of the farm. A few examples: A 3rd grade Waldorf group was here during the Sukkot Holiday, and the teacher asked if they could build a Sukkot tent. We’d been thinking of building an arbor in our garden space, and had them build a whole tree arbor in garden, in the style of our other buildings. The kids were able to do a building project; one or our staff put his construction skills to work, and we now have a lovely trellis for beans and cucumbers.
We saw a “lunchbox” activity at another farm with a child sized lunchbox and samples of a sheep’s food. We made “lunchboxes” for 8 kinds of livestock, with a full day’s rations for that animal (the horse’s food is in a big suitcase). Kids love to solve the mystery of who left their lunchboxes out. It helps them integrate their learning about the livestock after a few days of doing animal chores.
Our on-farm programs are funded primarily by program fees; additional funds are raised through individual donations and fundraisers. We are currently establishing a scholarship fund. We have had limited success with finding grant support for the on-farm programs, though our other initiatives (urban and farmer training in particular) are largely grant funded.
Tremendous growth in programming over the past decade.
So many beautiful stories about individuals whose lives have been impacted by their experience of the farm. For example: I received an email from a woman whose son had come here with his class five years earlier for a three day camping trip. He’d been completely inspired by chickens. His family had recently moved to North Carolina, to a location where it was feasible to keep chickens. He now has his own flock and egg business. His mom wanted to know if one particular chicken (Miss Juanita chicken) was still living. She had passed on just a month before, at the ripe old (chicken) age of 8.
Capacities Built in the Children
A heart-based relationship with this farm (and farms in general)
A sense of personal agency and responsibility
Respect for nature, farms, farmers
Understanding of how personal choices matter
Particular skills for farming, preparing food, making healthy choices
Fun, joyful, inspirational experience
From a parent:
Even though the temperature was 100 degrees plus, Megan was up early every morning ready for farm camp. She was so excited when we picked her up to give us a tour of all of the animals. It amazed us when she walked right over and picked up a chicken! She was proud of the chicken coop and compost pile she and her co-campers worked on during the week. She had an awesome experience and can't wait to go back next year.
I especially love to have international visitors to the farm. Many have never been out of the city in all their time in the US, and we hear comments like, “I haven’t heard a rooster since I left Africa.” People often experience a sense of home here, even if it is their first visit.
What difficulties have you faced?
Our program fees are at the upper limit of what our market can bear, but still don't cover all of our costs. Programs have outgrown the facilities. We never seem to have enough time for outreach and publicity.
What advice would you give to other programs?
Love your farm, and the impact you know it has on visitors, and let that shine through in your programs.
Relationships are the foundation of your success.
Set up good, clear standards and systems for what visitors can do on your farm.
We want visitors to feel welcome, to develop ownership, to have elements of adventure, freedom and impact on the farm, but we also have to balance this with protecting the privacy of those who live at the farm, making sure that visitors are safe, and making sure that visitors don’t impact productivity. We have clear guidelines for where groups can go on the farm. We also seek to find a match for good work projects. For instance, a group can harvest radishes without much training, but we probably wouldn’t have them harvest melons (where it is important to assess ripeness). We developed a small demonstration garden where kindergarteners can experience planting, whereas we wouldn’t have them plant in the larger vegetable fields.