Clarewood Farm and Bakery
Central Illinois Farm Beginnings 2008-2009
An interview by Cara Cummings
Gail Record was making and selling zucchini bread in the 70s, when most people didn’t even know what it was. But once they tasted it, they loved it, and they would come back to her market stand week after week and stand in line for it. So years later, in 2008, when her daughter (also a Central Illinois Farm Beginnings (CIFB) graduate), strongly suggested that Gail should take Farm Beginnings as a way to plan for her farming and baking business, she did. And not only did she take it, but she brought her sisters and her husband along to learn with her! She explained that “…it doesn’t do any good for just you to take it…having the support of your family is so important."
Gail wanted to grow everything. She loves to bake, and so she wanted to grow all the ingredients that she would need for her baking business, Clarewood Farm and Bakery. And with her family farmland, 80 acres near Springfield, Illinois, it seemed like a reasonable thing to do. But a great mentor, Ron Ackerman, helped her to realize that she didn't need to do everything herself, and that there are other ways to get great locally grown ingredients. In fact, Ron grows the organic wheat that Gail has ended up buying for her baked goods. This advice was helpful in a lot of ways: first, she has a manageable garden that allows her time to bake and sell at markets; and second, it has kept her in contact with other Farm Beginnings students (from her class and others), who grow a lot of the things that she needs for her products, so her farmer network continues to grow and get stronger.
Since graduating from Central Illinois Farm Beginnings, Gail has helped convert about four acres around the family farmstead to restored prairie, and a space for organically grown fruits and vegetables. The other land is rented to a conventional farmer, but they are working toward managing that more sustainably too. Things change from year to year, particularly with the unpredictable weather we have had lately, but she always grows a variety of fruits and vegetables that she uses for her business. After last year’s drought, she scaled back a bit, and is growing mostly zucchini and tomatoes, and she is fighting the Japanese beetles on her blackberries. But even if farming is challenging, she will keep trying new things, because, she says, “I love planting! Putting your hands in the dirt and knowing that you will grow something great, just being at the farm, it is a personal temple.”
But the main reason for doing all of this in the first place, is that Gail loves to bake! She sells her delicious baked goods in Springfield at the Illinois Products Farmers’ Market at the fairgrounds and at the Old Capitol Farmers’ Market. Her passion for what she does is evident in her products, as was recently attested to by a customer who commented, “These scones are a gift from heaven.”
I asked Gail what comes next, is she living the dream? To which she answered, “How perfect is this? Baking, going to markets, and farming in the summer, some travel in the winter–and time to read the seed catalogs…to see what’s for next year."