Feb 21 2017
Somewhat hidden away in Livingston County, Ill. Is a five-acre farmhouse reminiscent of farms from years ago. With the help of USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), the farm is able to maintain a diverse operation with agrotourism characteristics and manage a CSA – or Community Supported Agriculture.
An ASC is a way for consumers to invest directly in local farms, such as Beth and Doug Rinkenberger’s Garden Gate Farms, and to receive a regular delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Once a dairy farm, they now grow vegetables, raise turkeys, pigs and chickens, and raise cows for a nearby farmer. New members of Stewards of the Land, LLC – where local farmers bring their produce and meats together for sale at farmer’s markets, local food stores and grocery stores, and at upscale restaurants in the area – they are are friends with Terry Bachtold, who also works for the Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District, a close partner of the NRCS.
Bachtold encouraged the Rinkenbergers to apply for the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) cost-sharing program to build a high tunnel, which was installed in June 2014.
“I started about four years ago with a little CSA,” Beth said, “and we’re now almost 20 members.” She is enthusiastic about the high tunnel because over time they will be able to offer vegetables to customers as early as March or April. “It’s just amazing to me.”
Right now Beth is doing what she calls field trials. Determine what she can plant, when to plant it, and how it grows. The first plantings are intended for their CSA customers. The Rinkenbergers also discovered that there was a significant market for root vegetables. So they installed a large cooler to store them.
Beth said the EQIP process “has been very straightforward and I can’t tell you how happy we are. For us and our goals as a farm. The high tunnels will help increase the accessibility of vegetables and, ultimately, profitability. “It will make a big difference for us to extend our season,” she said, “especially if we can grow taller during the winter.”
In December, they plucked 85 pounds of kale from the high tunnel. At four dollars a pound, that’s a nice sum of money. She says they are still learning. To keep weeds down, Beth says she continues to hoe and adds mulch. She lays a layer of newspaper and straw on top. By the next season, what was left started to decompose and improve the soil.
Beth sees that the agri-tourism movement is growing in Livingston County. Visits to the Rinkenberger reception farm for nursery and kindergarten classes. “We’re Farmer Doug and Farmer Beth,” she said, “that’s what they call us. “
Many local CSA members prefer to come to the farm to collect their boxes rather than have them dropped off at a nearby location. Beth knows they just want to go out and see the different activities going on on the farm. “And that’s our reward,” she said, “a low-key style of agritourism. “
Beth loves what is happening in Livingston County and Chicago and other places where their farm’s value is recognized. She adds, “And I love that my children, and now my grandchildren, know how to raise, grow and survive because of what we have taught them.”