Illinois Farm Goes Small and Goes Home

[imgbelt img=Henry_Farm.jpg]Terra Brockman recruits and trains a new generation of farmers who use labor-intensive methods to restore rural communities and create an economic niche.


The Land Connection and author of The Seasons on Henry’s Farm (Agate Surrey, 2010).

Terra is Latin for land or earth. The surname Brockman, in an old English rendering, means person who lives by the brook.

In this case, name is destiny.

Terra recently visited Western Illinois University to take part in an Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs’ all-day Sustainability Brownbagger, dubbed the Environmental Summit Lite.

A day spent with Terra reveals a person who is passionate about the land and the people on it. She is adept at weaving personal and family experiences into the wider, related realms of farmers and farming, rural communities, and local and global sustainability.

Her family is truly “earthtrepreneurial,” dedicated to sustainable business enterprises. Five generations of family members have lived on their Mackinaw Valley farmland in central Illinois. Their care for the land and surrounding community is deeply embedded in the three generations of family now engaged in agriculture.

“all organic … all the time” farm. The family farm markets directly to residents of Evanston, Iillinois, in Chicagoland on weekends and is a community-supported-agriculture (subscription farming) business for residents of the Bloomington-Peoria area. The farm supplies 85% of the family’s food needs.

As Terra notes, Henry’s annual income mainly depends on 26 weekends of direct sales to consumers. The farm is a profitable venture that serves 2,500 customers a week. It provides about 755 varieties of 100-or-so different types of produce. The diversity of varieties allows Henry to spread his risk. For example, a variety of early broccoli might not do well because of weather, but a later variety might be bountiful.

Her sister, Teresa, grows fruit and herbs organically on two pieces of land, three acres next to her home in Eureka, Illinois, and two additional acres on the family farm near Congerville, Illinois. Besides more traditional fruits, a specialty is Aronia, a native plant cultivated for its tart but tasty berries.

Terra expresses her passion for the land and communities through her writing, speaking and The Land Connection, a nonprofit she started in 2001 with the goals of saving farmland, training new farmers and connecting consumers with fresh, local foods.

“Part of my goal is to bring people back to farming, back to rural communities,” she said in one of her talks at the Environmental Summit Lite. Her model of rural revival includes training people who are interested in farming and willing to work in labor-intensive ways that rely on “sun-generated and farm-generated inputs.”

Her philosophy is built on the premise that conventional farming practices are not sustainable because of their dependence on nonrenewable, fossil-fuel-based inputs and practices that damage soil, water and communities. By revealing disconnections between industrialized farming and local communities, Terra unwraps a significant part of the core underlying rural community decline in many areas, especially her back yard in the Midwest.

“There is a problem with the way people and communities are treated in an industrialized approach to agriculture,” she said. Current farming practices are unsustainable. This is evident from the condition of rural communities.

“The emphasis on economic aspects of farming is not as ethical as an approach that focuses on sustainability more broadly defined to include people in the community,” she added.