Resource Spotlight: Angelic Organics Learning Center


This is a Resource Spotlight you do not want to miss! Angelic Organics Learning Center builds sustainable local food and farm systems through experiential education programs in partnerships with urban and rural people – and has a ton of resources available to you. We asked Maria Gray, the Director of Development and Communications, to tell us a bit more.

General info:

Website:  www.learngrowconnect.org

Contact person:   Maria Gray, Director of Development and Communications (maria.g@learngrowconnect.org)

Newsletter sign-up: https://www.learngrowconnect.org/webform/sign-email-news?email=enter+email+here

Subject area:

The Learning Center works at all levels of the food system!  From teaching young people about how to grow fresh vegetables for themselves and their neighbors, to farmer training, to participating in agriculture policy discussions on a local, state and national basis.

Okay now for the fun stuff…

1. How would you describe Angelic Organics Learning Center? But there’s a catch… describe it in a haiku! (Refresher: a haiku consists of 3 lines, with the first and last lines having 5 syllables and the middle line having 7 syllables)

Hands-on programs that

spark farmers and eaters to

learn, grow and connect

2. What does Angelic Organics Learning Center bring to the (national food systems) table?

The Learning Center is unique in that we’re the non-profit partner to a for-profit farm - Angelic Organics.  Angelic Organics is a vibrant, Biodynamic farm in Caledonia, IL, and was one of the first community-supported agriculture (CSA) farms in the Midwest.  The Learning Center was founded by Angelic Organics CSA members to connect more people with the farm, through tours and discounted CSA shares.  In other words, what we bring to the national food systems is 20 years of experience in bridging the gap between farmers and eaters. 

We also bring a range of experience from having multiple programs that each work to impact the food system in its own way: from our on-farm programs providing hands-on experiences that help people gain knowledge and skills, to supporting our region’s sustainable farmers launch or enhance their businesses through a suite of farmer training programs; to increasing good food access on a hyper-local, neighborhood-based level through our urban programs.

3. Who does Angelic Organics Learning Center serve?

We serve farmers and eaters in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.  More specifically, each of our programs serve unique groups:     

  • The On-Farm program serves children, students, and families from throughout the Midwest. Most On-Farm participants are youth (81%). We also offer a robust scholarship fund to help people of all economic backgrounds visit, learn from and be inspired by the farm.
  • Our Farmer Training programs serve approximately 200 beginning sustainable farmers in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin each year.  The farmers we serve have smaller, less capital intensive farms than a typical conventional farmers, and most have diversified operations.  Our urban programs in Rockford and Chicago serve residents of the immediate neighborhoods where our farms and gardens are located:
  • In Rockford, the Roots & Wings program serves residents of Blackhawk Courts, a public housing property for families.  The majority of residents who participate in programs and events at the farm are young people under the age of 25 (82%).
  • In Chicago, we manage two Learning Gardens that serve neighbors and local community organizations. We also operate an Incubator Farm that serves farmers of color living on the city’s south side.

4. What do people/orgs look to you for?

  • Through our on-farm programs, people look to us for workshops that help them build skills, experience life on a working farm and engage with our region’s natural environment. Schools and community organizations look to us for customized, hands-on learning opportunities. 
  • Farmers look to us for programs to build their financial and business planning skills, and opportunities to connect with and learn from their peers.  Other farmer training organizations look to us for our expertise in facilitating farmer-to-farmer training programs
  • In Rockford, people look to us and the Blackhawk Courts Farm & Garden for youth activities, job opportunities, and community events. 
  • In Chicago, community groups look to us for opportunities for their constituents to gain skills through gardening, as well as technical assistance in establishing urban gardens.  People in the neighborhood look to us for fresh, free food, and a chance to engage with nature!

5. What three problems can someone find solutions for on your site?

  • Teachers and community leaders can learn more about our custom on-farm experiences, which provide hands-on food and farm experiences that reinforce learning goals:  https://www.learngrowconnect.org/on-farm
  • Consumers can find more information about local sustainable farmers who are growing in our region: https://www.learngrowconnect.org/upper-midwest-craft-farms
  • Farmers can find more information about our financial training programs, including our Farm Asset Builder program, which is a matched savings program that helps them overcome the challenge of accessing capital to purchase farm equipment:  https://www.learngrowconnect.org/finance

6. Are there certain tools or resources that you’ve found especially popular?

Our farmer training resources are especially popular, including:

  • Farm Dreams, an all-day introductory workshop for people interested in launching a farm business
  • Routes to Farm, a collaboration of 14 farmer alliances dedicated to providing support and training to local and sustainable farmers in the greater Chicago foodshed.  The Routes to Farm website has a resource library with reports, videos, and other info on a wide-range of farming topics. 
  • The Upper Midwest CRAFT network, including the weekly e-news, field days, and network opportunities
  • The Chicagoland Chicken Enthusiasts
  • Website: www.chicagochickens.org and Googlegroup listserv
  • Resources about relevant policies and influencing change:
  • Policies and City Chickens
  • IL Chicken Policies
  • Our annual Windy City Coop Tour and Urban Livestock Expo (now under auspices of AUA - Advocates for Urban Agriculture.)

7. Who can access your resources? How?

Anyone can find out our programs online, and if they have more specific questions they can reach out to us directly. Some of our informational resources are available online to the public, and others through participation in programs, membership in Upper Midwest CRAFT, and so on.

8. What other resources or support is Angelic Organics Learning Center looking for?

In 2019, we will begin developing our next 3-year strategic plan.  Areas that we know we’ll need to address during this timeframe include 1. developing a communications strategy; 2. cultivating of new revenue streams (corporate giving, volunteers, and launch of a membership program), and 3. deepening our anti-oppression work. 

We are always looking to build strategic partnerships with local organizations and institutions that can help strengthen our programs.

Currently, we are looking for schools, community groups, and businesses that are interested in custom overnight programs at our new on-farm overnight center in Caledonia, IL. From field trips, regional convenings to conferences - our Angelic Organics Lodge is a one-of-a-kind destination for a whole range of events. With bunk style lodging for up to 30 guests, and immediate access to the 200-acre farm campus, it’s an ideal retreat or programming location for anyone looking to connect with a working, sustainable farm, including food prepared directly from the farm!

We seek funds and in-kind assistance to renovate and operate spaces where we can maintain offices and offer programs and farm/garden storage near our urban farms in Chicago and Rockford.

9. What other “resource-full” organizations would you recommend?

Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Illinois Farm to School Network, The Land Stewardship Project, Advocates for Urban Agriculture, Biodynamic Association, Nonprofit Democracy Network, Illinois Environmental Council, Food: Land: Opportunity Initiative, Civil Eats, FoodTank, The New Food Economy.

10. How can someone get in touch with you for more information?

Visit the “Contact” page on our website:  https://www.learngrowconnect.org/contact.  Whether you’re looking for more information about farmer training, field trips, or other topics, we have a form set up so your question will get directed to the appropriate staff person.

Anything else?!?!

Come visit!   We can host custom day or overnight programs at our main farm in Caledonia - whether you want a more formal work-and-learn experience or just want to spend time relaxing in nature.  We can also coordinate farm tours and volunteer days at our urban farms and gardens in Rockford, and Chicago. 

Huge thank you to Angelic Organics Learning Center for telling us more about your programs and all the resources available to those of us working in local food systems!

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