"The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living on a small piece of land." Abraham Lincoln
As farm owners, operators, Rob for the past 25 years and Erin for the past 8 years , we know the peaks and valleys of running a business and designing systems that build resilience in times of stress. To farm at a human scale takes a lot of science/technique along with love and celebration.
We have found success in our commitment to the land, each other and our customers. We strive to make it easy and affordable for you to participate in our farm and enjoy the food and fruits of our labor. We market primarily on a community supported agriculture model, receiving payment in the spring from farm members, and providing weekly delivery of organic (though uncertified) vegetables, herbs, fruit, and flowers from mid-May through mid-October.
We also cultivate cut flowers, red raspberries, apples, pears, hardy kiwi, and hops, and continue to expand our orchards and brambles, using agroforestry practices, to include currants and plums as well as lesser-known fruits such as aronia, saskatoons, elderberries, quince, and bush-cherries.
We look forward to growing for you!
Meet the Farm:
We are grateful for our plot of paradise that we steward. The farm's 60 acres includes mixed woodlands, prairies, a one acre orchard, 8,000 ft2 gardens, a whole lot of love and soil microbes, and sunsets that take your breathe away. A dairy operation when it was abandoned in the mid-1940's, Hilltop's house and outbuildings sat unused while the land was farmed by nearby residents until 1972, when the parcel was purchased by Donald and Anne McClure of Winnetka, Illinois. The early-1900's house was upgraded with electricity and running water, and restored to a circa 1920's rural residence during the following decade. More History.
Hilltop's primary soil types – the basis of our livelihood – is La Farge and Valton silt loam series. You can view and download a copy of our soil map.
Meet the Farmers:
I farm, facilitate, and love flowers. I devote my passions and skills to bringing beauty and fairness for our farms and food systems. Ask me if I set out to be a farmer, let alone a farmer florist,I would give you a smile and a blank stare. My mother would tell you I wanted to be a surgeon in New York City. Instead, I've settled on a different sort of health care provider role. I can't deny my agrarian roots and have spent many a childhood hour in the beet fields and backyard gardens of my parents pulling weeds and singing songs about picking potato beetles with my sister and plucking petals from daisies, "He loves me, he loves me not". I guess this stuck as I fell in love with a farmer after digging miles of holes surveying soils in Alaska and planting thousands of fruit trees and native plants from the NW to the Midwest. I enjoy the beauty and balance I find in Earth's diverse landscapes and landscape of the mind working a variety of jobs over the years as soil scientist, educator, researcher, restorationist, facilitator, barista, and wilderness therapist.
In addition to co-owning and stewarding Hilltop Community Farm, I serve on the Administrative Council for the USDA North Central SARE Program, am a professional grower member of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, and was a recent North American delegate for the World Farmer Organization - Women in Agriculture Committee. For the past 7 years I have traveled the world more as a farmer than any other time in my life supporting farmer to farmer trainings in Nicaragua, Senegal, Zambia, Argentina, Ghana, and at our farm. I look forward to sharing the harvest and gleaning stories with all of those who participate in our farm.
Ultimately, farming has helped me realize that it's not just what you do in the world, but how you want to be. And ultimately, I want to be happy, making an honest living, growing incredible healthy food and create beautiful floral feasts for you!
Farmer Rob's Bio: Coming Soon…
How we view what we do:
We view the many forms of modern agriculture on a continuum, from "green revolution" practices, with their emphasis on chemical inputs, genetic manipulation and mechanization at one end, to ecological systems on the other. We could say that on the one hand we have an agricultural perspective -- i.e., that biotic systems require disruption and manipulation in order to produce food, and that this is what a farmer's job entails -- and on the other an ecological perspective. If we were to draw out this continuum, agricultural practices like IPM (integrated pest management) and organic agriculture would fall somewhere to the middle, with organic agriculture approaching an ecological system more than IPM. While both these techniques are laudable improvements over conventional agriculture, in our view they are still short of ideal. Our background and training is not in agronomy but in ecology, education, and soil science, and while we do farm organically we constantly seek to push our practice toward ecologic stability. And we are not the only ones attempting to do so: Other local farmers are doing their best to mimic ecological systems, and perhaps in the the not so distant future the state of local agriculture talk will be farmers boasting stories of ecological transitions rather than the cleverest techniques for outwitting Mother Nature.
The basis of organic farming and its relation to healthy plants and healthy humans is summed up in the soil. The Earth's skin of soil-save for bits of mineral and countless tiny organisms that dwell within it—is comprised simply of things that have lived before us. This 'dead' material is transformed, solely through energy provided by the sun, to all the living things with plants providing the essential link for transferring the suns vital energy to organisms like us who don't photosynthesize. A living vibrant soil will be full of all the necessary mycorrhizae (fungi) and soil organisms, it will have a pH somewhere around 5.9 – 6.5, but only if there is a balanced calcium/magnesium ratio with adequate quantities of each and sulphur to match. This means that the right amount of carbon is in the soil and there must also be a good percentage of organic matter and then we have a starting point. The sun does all the hard work of farming: it provides heat and light that powers plants' metabolism, delivers moisture from distant oceans through the atmospheric circulations; its energy is even encoded into the DNA of seeds, telling them how to produce the roots, fruits, seeds and leaves that keep us alive. Though farmers tinker with the plants – to – people part of the process and midwife it as best we can, “food” is simply the outcome of the sun's energy interacting with the wafer-thin organic coating on the planet's rocky crust. Food is as fundamental a birthright as the sun, air soil, and water which comprise it. It's our job as farmers to pay attention to the signs Mother Nature gives us so that we can continue to provide you with high quality, nutritional foods required for your own sustainability.
"While science and technique are important to sustainable food production, you also need a bit of love and celebration to grow great food." Farmer Erin's philosophy on how you grow it is what you get...
Food does take considerable human labor to produce in quantity and thus do human 'economic' systems intervene to exclude so many from a decent standard of eating. Modern capitalism requires maximization of profit; mass-production and human hierarchy are most efficient at achieving this, but both have proved especially disastrous when applied to agriculture. (See blog posting on “how is it that We Eat” - link to this). The recent history of investor backed agribusiness, with its 'vertical integration', has narrowed the number of people working with the land, replacing their labor with larger and larger machines. Since capitalism subsidizes non-renewable energy by not requiring a full accounting of costs (e.g. $ trillions in global warming – and pollution – related remediation), modern agriculture has become dependent on heavy machinery which not only devours petroleum resources and contributes to atmospheric warming but destroys soils through compaction. Reliance upon GMO (genetically modified organisms), pesticides, herbicides and other toxins has become routine. Future generations may be deprived not only of vital energy resources but of genetic diversity and the knowledge of how to produce food in concert with the ecosystem.
Food that is both bountiful and cheap is therefore a sort of an illusions, temporarily enabled by subsidized energy. Awash with cheap food, Americans can be shocked by the honest cost of sustainable production.