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Presenting the 2015 Beginning Farmer of the Year Award!

Locally grown produce and agriculture has seen a recent surge in popularity. Consumers enjoy a fresh, sustainable, and often organic product that supports their local communities. This demand for local food has encouraged more young people to take up farming as a career. One of these farmers, Jessica Rinks of Purple Leaf Farms, will be recognized with the 3rd annual Beginning Farmer of the Year Award at the opening symposium of the Good Food Festival & Conference on Friday, March 20, 10:15 AM at Chicago’s UIC Forum

Jessica Rinks nomination video:

Move Over Academy Awards, Make Room for Farmer Awards

Angelic Organics Learning Center and the Upper Midwest Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (Upper Midwest CRAFT) will present Rinks with the 2015 Beginning Farmer of the Year Award. Rinks will then recognize a mentor farmer who has assisted and inspired her along the way. Chris and Marcy Prchal of Trogg's Hollow Farm will receive this honor as the 2015 Mentor Farmer of the Year.

“We created Beginning and Mentor Farmer of the Year as a way to highlight success and collaboration,” said Tom Spaulding, Executive Director of Angelic Organics Learning Center, a regional non-profit that helps people build a healthy local food system. “Starting your own farm is not an easy pursuit. These success stories encourage beginning farmers to keep going and help one another along the way.”

Humble Beginnings

Jessica Rinks of Purple Leaf Farms is undoubtedly one of these success stories. Rinks worked in urban planning in 2008 when she and a friend decided to start a community garden in Forest Park, Illinois. They collaborated with the village to rent the state-owned land to residents who cultivated their own 4x8 foot plots. In 2009, Rinks was contracted by One Sixty Blue, a fine dining restaurant in Chicago’s West Loop, to start a garden adjacent to the restaurant parking lot. When the restaurant closed in 2012, Rinks found a lot in Forest Park where she leased a space to start Purple Leaf Farms.

 “Those first couple years were exhausting,” said Rinks. “I worked a full-time job and was building a business that occupied every spare moment. I barely had time to rest.”

Growing a Farm Career with a Little Help from Her Friends

Rinks eventually took her business full-time, while also managing the Oak Park Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. Things became a bit more complicated when the village of Forest Park decided to sell the land she leased for Purple Leaf Farms. She was fortunate to meet Chris and Marcy Prchal through her membership in Upper Midwest CRAFT, a farmer-led coalition that offers training for biodynamic, organic, and sustainable farmers and market gardeners. The Prchals own Trogg’s Hollow, a farm that occupies property in both Elgin and Poplar Grove, Illinois. They invited Rinks to farm with them on a plot in Elgin, providing a new home for Purple Leaf Farms.

 “Chris and Marcy are amazing,” said Rinks. “Not only did they provide land to grow produce, flowers, and herbs but they offered guidance and support. They are true mentors and I am so fortunate to know them.”

Transportation to Elgin was the main problem for Rinks who remained a Forest Park resident. Rinks has been visually impaired since birth, making driving a car infeasible. She relied on both public transportation and rides from her husband, Nick Ardinger, who also works as a full-time at University of Illinois at Chicago.

“It would have been impossible for me to follow my dream without the unconditional support from my husband,” said Rinks. “Nick spends his evenings and weekends driving me to and from the farm, mowing weeds, and selling produce at farmers markets. I am truly grateful for his support.”good food festival, chicago

Looking Forward to a Green Future

The 2015 farming season looks bright for Rinks and Purple Leaf Farms. In addition to receiving Beginning Farmer of the Year, Rinks was also accepted into the Farmers for Chicago program, a farm incubator set to open on Chicago’s south shore. Purple Leaf Farms will relocate from Elgin and occupy an acre on this long vacant steel industry land. Rinks will share the land with other like-minded agriculture start-ups.

“I feel like I’ve won the lottery,” said Rinks of her recent achievements. “It’s validation for all my hard work and inspires me to continue doing what I love.”

Celebrating Jessica Rinks and Chris and Marcy Prchal at the Good Food Fest

Members of the public can meet Jessica Rinks, Tom Spaulding and more than 150 farmers, artisans, chefs and other exhibitors at the 11th annual Good Food Festival & Conference, March 19-21 at the UIC forum (725 W Roosevelt Rd. Chicago‚ IL 60608).  Visit www.goodfoodfestivals.com  for more information about the festival.

 

By Kathleen Bolin, Communications Consultant

farmer award, Angelic Organics, CRAFT, Dominic Green, Troggs Hollow, CRAFT