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Angelic Organics Learning Center Celebrates 15th Year of Impact and Vision

Farmer John Peterson and Tom SpauldingThe following are the remarks of Tom Spaulding shared at the 2013 Farm Dinner event.  Tom is a co-founder and Executive Director of the Learning Center.

Thank you for being here tonight to support the mission and programs of the Angelic Organics Learning Center and to celebrate the 15-year anniversary of our founding. I am so very grateful to each and every one of you, whether you are volunteers, staff, visitors, program participants, chefs, servers, farmers, and friends, or friends of friends.   Welcome to your farm. 


Looking over the past 15 years, there is so much to celebrate!  And, looking forward 15 years, there is so much more to do!


I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to be with you here tonight.   One year ago, I missed this event due to the onset of the worst health crisis in my life.  Thankfully, I’m recovering.  Yet, spending some time in a nearly vegetative state gives one the opportunity to reflect on one’s life and its meaning and purpose.

  • Does this work have meaning? 
  • Have these 15 years of effort been worth it? 
  • If I recover, is this where I want to be?  


I look back at the tens of thousands of youth and adults who have come to our Learning Center and farm to gain skills or be inspired.  You will hear from a few of them in tonight’s program.  Not on the speakers list is Sophia, age 9 – here, tonight at one of the tables.  She spent part of a week here with her 3rd grade class in May.  Yesterday she told me it was the best field trip ever and that she is clear – she wants to farm. Not only farm, but farm here.  We negotiated a deal – when she turns 12 she can come out and do livestock chores and when she is 15 she can work with the vegetable crew.  I know this place inspires great dreams and great things.  So I say Yes! This is where I want to be.


In 1990, Angelic Organics was the only CSA serving Chicago (CSA = community supported agriculture).  Now, there are more than 90 CSA farms and 21% of these are led by farmer grads of the Learning Center and more than a third are members of our CRAFT farmer alliance, started by Angelic Organics and a handful of peer farmers in the mid 1990’s to help train a new generation of organic and Biodynamic farmers. The Learning Center has trained more than 200 beginning farmers and more than 70% of our grads are farming.  So I say Yes! This is where I want to be.


I see that our CRAFT farmer alliance has grown over the last 15 years from a dozen to nearly 100 farms.  CRAFT is a farmer-led alliance providing farmer-to-farmer training, the best way to learn to farm.  CRAFT is a great idea and great ideas spread.  In 1997, we were one of two CRAFT farmer alliances in the USA.  Now, there are more than 20 in the US and Canada. 

Our staff is currently organizing the first international gathering of CRAFT farmer alliances to be held in NY in Jan 2014!  And I say Yes! This is where I want to be.


I look at the more than 30 community-based organizations with whom we have partnered and accompanied in low-income communities in Chicago and Rockford to launch their own food system projects,

from Growing Home - serving the homeless and near homeless - to Roots & Wings youth leaders in Rockford running a vegetable CSA for low-income seniors.  And I say Yes! This is where I want to be.


I look at the cultural shift and transformation that we’ve helped to spark and lead and nurture.  20 years ago, our institutions charged with promoting agriculture – local, state and federal government, universities, university extension, and more – viewed CSA farms, local foods, organic and Biodynamic farming as “fringe”, “hippie”, “cult”, or even “subversive”.  

Today, with leadership from the Learning Center and partners, the state of Illinois passed the Illinois Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act and set targets for local food procurement – 20% by 2020.   Illinois Extension now has local food extension agents around the state.  The Federal government launched a nationwide initiative for local food that adopted Angelic Organics’ long-time slogan printed on the back of all our t-shirts -- “know your food, know your farmer”. Not only did they stop calling us hippies, they now fund us to teach others about CSAs, local food, organic and Biodynamic farming, urban agriculture and more. So I say Yes! This is where I want to be.


And I look at my family and how the farm and Learning Center have made a difference in our own lives.  Our three boys, now fine young men, were all shaped by this farm.  Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo, my wife and co-founder of the Learning Center, recently finished her doctorate in eco-theology and is teaching seminarians and lay people about the Biblical foundations for caring for Creation.  Like you all, the fresh, dynamic, and nutrient-dense foods from this land are healing our bodies – first my wife from endometriosis and now me from Lyme Disease.  And I say Yes! This is where I want to be.   


This is where I want to be.   Here, among all of you -- rural, suburban and rural – rich and poor -- all colors and creeds -- beginning, prospective and elder farmers -- advocates for a sustainable and just food system.  I want to walk with you, celebrate the gifts we have, cherish the sacred land beneath our feet, and reach out and share a practical vision of the world we want today.  


Looking forward 15 years, we have some great challenges and opportunities!


Yes, we are no longer fringe, but we are, at best, only 1% of the food economy.  I dream of a time when 50% of our food comes from local farms, led by CSA farms.  Just think of the impact this would have on our soil, water, wildlife, biodiversity, health, and economy.  More meaningful work. Better health. Living soils. Stronger communities. 


Together we can make the impossible possible.


To get there, we will need:


  • More eaters with a farm in their heart!  Tens of thousands more will need to commit their support to CSA farms and local farmers.   I invite you to help us to raise scholarship funds and expand our campus -- including an overnight residential facility, upgraded barn classroom and meeting spaces, and urban training farms  -- so that we can double or triple the number of individuals we reach.  


  • To train in more local farmers, up to 10,000 more in Illinois over the next 15 years.  I invite you to support our farmer training initiative and our beginning farmer grads as they launch new farm businesses.


  • More citizen advocates to change the policies that make getting, growing and eating good food profoundly difficult for so many, especially low-income families.  I invite you to take part in our Civic Engagement Initiative and support our urban training farms in Rockford and Chicago. 


  • To protect the land for organic/Biodynamic farming just as we protect forests or other natural lands.  In the coming months, we will be launching the Farms Forever Project to protect the land here at Angelic Organics in perpetuity for organic & Biodynamic agriculture, farming education, and land conservation.  I invite you to support making this a Farm Forever, a resource for generations to come.


Angelic Organics Learning Center is at the center of all these and will continue to be.  Yes, this is where I want to be!!! I look forward to walking this path with each of you.