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Amy Randazzo of Grani’s Acres receives 2016 Beginning Farmer of the Year Award presented award at Good Food Festival & Conference, Chicago

The 12th Annual Good Food Festival & Conference brought farmers, chefs, educators, legislators, entrepreneurs, and consumers together at UIC Forum, March 24-26, 2016. It also hosted the 4th Annual Beginning Farmer of the Year award presentation on March 25. Originated by the Upper Midwest CRAFT farmer alliance, this award is now presented by Routes to Farm, a new project led by Angelic Organics Learning Center that connects both new and established farmers to farmer-vetted resources that help grow their businesses in the local and sustainable food economy. is comprised of ten farmer alliances and support organizations that feed the Chicago foodshed. Each farmer alliance chose a finalist for Beginning Farmer of the Year from a pool of farmer applicants that submitted videos about their farms. Some of these farms are located within Chicago, while others are located across the state, and even one in Wisconsin. They serve restaurants, grocery stores, farmers markets and consumers directly. Finalists included Planted | Chicago (Advocates for Urban Agriculture), Tree Of Life Organic Farm (Band of Farmers), Creciendo Farms (Upper Midwest CRAFT), PrairiErth Farm (The Land Connection), Grateful Plains (Illinois Organic Growers Association), Boots & Saddle (Pembroke Farming Family), and the winner - Grani’s Acres (Illinois Stewardship Alliance).

“These farmers represent the bedrock of the emerging local and sustainable farm economy,” said Tom Spaulding, Executive Director of Angelic Organics Learning Center. “We are here to celebrate the entrepreneurship and courage of beginning farmers and the generosity of farmer alliances whose experienced farmers provide mentoring, technical assistance, and training. Every farmer finalist and each farmer alliance should feel immensely proud.”

The winning submission, from farmer Amy Randazzo of Grani’s Acres, is a beautifully crafted video that captures an aspiration to change our world by returning to our roots – small, sustainable, seasonal, and chemical-free farming.  Randazzo was an accountant in Bloomington, IL when she purchased her grandparents’ horse farm.  Initially she had no intention of farming the land, but decided to take a yearlong sustainable farmer training course, previously offered at University of Illinois, when she found herself between jobs. Soon after, “Grani’s Acres” was born.

“I think that the way our grandparents ate was a good way to eat,” said Randazzo. “They lived and died by the seasons. They ate what was up that week, and if it wasn’t up, they didn’t eat it. If we can get back to that, we’ll be doing a huge favor for the generations that come along behind us.”

Randazzo also recognized a farmer that mentored her throughout her journey. She chose Marty Travis of Spence Farm and Spence Farm Foundation as the 2016 Mentor Farmer of the Year. Travis, a seventh generation farmer, has been a longtime advocate of the local and sustainable farming movements. He and his wife, Kris, formed a farming cooperative “Stewards of the Land” to meet the demand for clean, local food while also supporting small sustainable farmers. Randazzo is now an instrumental part of “Legacy of the Land” a second cooperative following the same model. She uses her accounting and managerial skills to assure farmers and land are connected to meet demand and yield profit.

“Beginning Farmer of the Year draws attention to the success stories of small sustainable farmers,” said Travis. “This is incredibly important. We need more of these farmers, not only because so many farmers are aging out of the profession, but also because the demand for good food is growing so rapidly.”  

Beginning Farmer of the Year also highlights the farmer alliances and support organizations that are part of the Routes to Farm project.  Illinois Stewardship Alliance chose Randazzo as their finalist, and received recognition as the winning alliance. The Springfield-based alliance is a non-profit that promotes environmentally sustainable, economically viable and socially just local food systems through policy development, advocacy and education. 

The other alliances represented have slightly different missions, but all strive to connect and support local, sustainable farmers. It just so happens that Randazzo’s son, who recently assumed the lead farmer role at Grani’s Acres, spent nine months in an apprenticeship with Hans Bishop on PrairiErth Farm, this year’s Beginning Farmer of the Year finalist from The Land Connection. Randazzo is passionate about increasing the number of sustainable farmers, not only in her own family and community, but worldwide.

“I’m doing this to change the world, one potato at a time,” said Randazzo. “People want a good, quality food product, and I can give it to them.”

Videos of the Beginning Farmer of the Year finalists can be viewed at The Routes to Farm project ( is made possible with the generous support of the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust through Food:Land:OpportunityTop right photo courtesy of Barry Brecheisen.

Save the date for next year's Good Food Festival & Conference - March 16-18, 2017