Six years ago this fall I arrived in Champaign. I spent the winter wondering what could possibly be good about this place. Having lived most of my life on the coast of California, I just didn’t get it--was so cold, and SO flat. By spring, after months of being holed up inside, the cabin fever got to be almost too much, so I took to the internet figuring there must be SOMETHING to do here. And that is when I stumbled upon Breakfast on the Farm at Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery. The moment I stepped out of the car, I felt different. I’m quite serious when I say I got it that fast--I immediately understood that there was something here that I had not experienced yet, but that I needed to know more about. So after we ate breakfast and had our first visit with the baby goats, I walked up to Leslie Cooperband and introduced myself, and asked if I could PLEASE volunteer on the farm.
Leslie was kind enough to say yes to the non-Midwesterner, and that summer I spent a lot of time out at the farm working, mostly on the garden, but also with the goats, and serving at the farm’s slow food dinners. By August, after I’d had some time to prove myself, and after many conversations with Wes Jarrell while working in the garden, Wes and Leslie introduced me to Terra Brockman, the founder of the nonprofit organization, The Land Connection.
The introduction was made by email, and it took some back and forth messaging before we found a time to talk. This is significant because I was on a road trip at the time. I was travelling from Illinois to Maine to visit family. I figured that when it was time to talk, I would pull into a rest stop or a gas station to take the call. The snafu came when I was leaving my friend’s house in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They warned me when I was leaving, that there was an exit that I needed to take that would come up fast--in other words, don’t start the book on tape yet. Focus on getting to the right route first. Well somehow, even with fair warning, I missed my exit. And before I knew it, I was not heading below Lake Erie, but rather, I had headed north, and was well on my way to Canada. The good thing is that I happened to have my passport with me.
As I was mulling my goof up over in my head, and was wondering how I had ended up on this Canadian detour, I completely forgot about my call with Terra. So when my phone rang, I had a serious oh $h!t moment. I REALLY wanted to take the call, as it was to be my first interview for a job in Illinois. I was also driving--I did have a hands free device, and I was, it seemed, the only other car on the road--but I was also in Canada, and did not have an international calling plan (or a job to pay for the phone bill). Ugg, I thought, just take it. So I answered my phone, and had the conversation that would lead to the beginning of what would become an amazing five years in Illinois.
In between then and now, so much has happened at The Land Connection. We have grown our staff significantly, and with that, our programs too, have grown and thrived. We started the Champaign Farmers’ Market, added an organic grain transition track to our farmer training program, developed and held a very long list of marketing, production, and business planning workshops, field-days, seminars, and webinars. I have been through Central Illinois Farm Beginnings five times, and formed what I assume will be life-long friendships with the amazing farmers who have graduated from the program. I have talked to countless people who dream of starting farms, and have been humbled over and over again by the people who grow our community’s food. And we have developed and strengthened our partnerships with businesses, nonprofit organizations, universities, colleges, funders, and maybe most important of all, with our Champaign-Urbana community.
So when I got a call last month, from Fair Food Network, which is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan--the place I had been visiting when I got the call from Terra five years ago--I felt like my lap was complete, like my work with TLC was at a good stopping point. I am more confident than ever that The Land Connection is in good hands with our stellar staff, our dedicated board, and the support of our friends and family. It is because of my confidence that I know it is okay for me to move on and take on a new challenge. There is room, with this solid foundation, for new leadership. And now that I know what is so good about this place, I look forward to following along as the next chapter of The Land Connection’s history is written, by all of you.
With love and gratitude,