An organic farm in northern Illinois is turning to online crowd-funding in hopes of making its latest project a reality. Angelic Organics is counting on Kickstarter donations to help it transform its dairy barn into a community education center.
Tom Spaulding became interested in locally grown vegetables in the early 1990s when an illness in his family brought health to the forefront of his mind.
At that time, Angelic Organics, 1547 Rockton Road, Caledonia, was the only community supported agriculture (CSA) farm serving northern Illinois.
“We all joined as a family of the farm so we could get access to local, fresh vegetables that were grown without chemicals,” Spaulding said.
In 1998, Spaulding founded Angelic Organics Learning Center, a not-for-profit affiliate of the farm that teaches community members about farming and locally grown food.
“A lot of people started coming to the farm and not just looking for vegetables, but really were looking for educational experiences or training experiences,” Spaulding said. “Some people wanted to become farmers, or other people just wanted to bring their Girl Scouts group, or their school group, or just individuals came. They wanted to be on the farm and see how their food was raised.”
The learning center regularly collaborates with other not-for-profit groups and offers multiple programs focused on bringing agricultural education to people of all ages and demographics.
Eco-Advocates is a vocational job training program for 18- to 25-year-olds who are unable to find jobs. The Farmer Training Initiative teaches people how to start and maintain their own farms. The On-Farm Initiative offers tours of Angelic Organics and other hands-on activities like cooking with food grown right on the farm. The Urban Initiative focuses on farming in low-income areas of Chicago and Rockford. And the Youth Development in Rockford program teaches young people in urban Rockford how to maintain gardens and cook with fresh vegetables.
“I think there’s a lot to learn here,” Spaulding said. “And we attract people who want to come to learn to farm, and we have a farmer training program that’s helped people to replicate what we’re doing here … We’ve had over 150 graduates of our Farmer Training program, 70 percent of which are farming.”
The learning center structure currently on the farm comfortably hosts about 20 people. But, because the programs are growing in popularity, sometimes that is not enough space.
Farmer John, third-generation Angelic Organics family farmer, has been taking money out of his own pocket over the years to renovate the dairy barn and turn it into an educational facility. Now, the learning center has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $150,000 by Feb. 15 to move the renovation process along.
Spaulding said the money raised with Kickstarter will go toward fixing the roof and interiors of the barn space so it will be suitable to host larger groups of people. He said the barn loft space can host up to 100 people, and the learning center would use that space to continue its programming in inclement weather.
Currently the campaign has raised more than $30,000 from 358 backers. Spaulding said if the full $150,000 is not raised, he and his team will have to go back to the drawing board to think of other fundraisers.
“The way Kickstarter works is you either get it or you don’t,” Spaulding said. “In these kinds of campaigns, a lot of times the last two weeks are the most critical, and it is proving true in our case.”
Spaulding said even if individuals are unable to donate to the campaign, spreading the word via social networking websites is also helpful.
The campaign is gaining national support thanks in large part to the Internet. Michael Pollan, author of Omnivore’s Dilemma, Alice Waters, author of Edible Garden, and film critic Roger Ebert have been promoting it on websites like Twitter and Facebook.
Spaulding believes Angelic Organics is similar to local libraries and Boys and Girls Clubs in its contributions to the northern Illinois community. He said he hopes people see that donating to the Kickstarter campaign would not only improve the Learning Center, but many rural and urban areas in the region as well.
“I love this farm, I love this place, I love this ground, and it’s just such a joy to host people here and in the city where we work, where we can spread that on to other people and let people connect to the earth and to local food and farming,” Spaulding said. “That’s the best part of my work.”
For more information on the Angelic Organics Learning Center, visit www.learngrowconnect.org
To learn more about the Kickstarter campaign, go to www.kickstartfarmerjohn.com
DISCLAIMER: Angelic Organics is an underwriter of Northern Public Radio.