I stopped at The Talking Farm one day to purchase some edible plants and had the chance to talk with Matthew Ryan, Farm Operations Manager. I was so moved by his passion for the garden and so impressed with what I saw, I returned to learn more. Matthew Ryan, and Assistant Farm Operations Manager, Susanna Lohmar brought experience from different backgrounds to this job.
Entering the farm, all the produce springing up in every direction looked beautiful and healthy. This farm has tentacles that reach in all directions and include additional campuses- ETHS, YOU, and Orchard Village. The Talking Farm grew out of the efforts of the Evanston Food Policy Council (now the Evanston Food Council) and was born in 2006. The mission of The Talking Farm changed dramatically after it struck a partnership with the Skokie Park District in 2010 to develop 2.5 acres of neglected land by the Tot Learning Center. Then, it went from an organization focused on food policy to realizing its dream of operating a full-production, working urban farm that distributes its vegetables to the community.
It’s growth and development has been remarkable. Volunteers come from local churches, schools, universities, corporate groups, community members and other places. The farm sells at local farmers’ markets in Skokie and Evanston, sells produce to 5 local restaurants, partners with Sketchbook Brewery, offers CSA’s, offers classes, community meals and more. The site is a model for sustainability, using the blend of plants, and trees to promote healthy produce and discourage pests. The farm is 40% built with room available for 6 more fields. Currently, the yield from all the farms is 20,000 with a target goal of 60,000 lbs annually.
Matt talked about the power of planting to “heal the world”, and how even just growing a tomato can make things better.
How The Talking Farm or any sustainable garden of some size can make a change in the world. He pointed out that an urban farm impacts:
-Health and Security
-Provides sustainability as an alternative to approaches toxic approaches
-Impacts the water supply
-Prevents soil erosion
-Provides biodiversity, allowing species to survive
-Uses flowers to attract pollinators to the garden
-Provides edible flowers that are valuable to chefs
Matt Ryan, Farm Operations Manager –graduated from the Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest Sustainable Urban Agricultural Certificate Program. Beginning as the Assistant Farm Manager in 2012, he also managed the ETHS school garden the “Edible Acre”. In 2015 he became the Talking Farms Operations Manager and has focused on further development of both the educational and production capacities of the organization.
Susanna Lohmar, Assistant Farm Operations Manager – graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a B.S. in Environmental Science, with a concentration in Food Systems. Susanna has been farming for three years, working at Radical Root Organic Farm, a 13-acre farm, Loyola’s Urban Agriculture Program, and Planted Chicago, a small-scale culinary-driven urban farm. Susanna told me that as an artistic person the beauty of gardens as well as the food aspects interested her.
She manages farm production and client education for Orchard Village, a non-profit for developmentally challenged community members, and helps to manage ETHS’s Edible Acre. Susanna is passionate about growing and eating her own food. Her ultimate goal is being connected with and taking care of the earth.
Susanna told me that recently hops have been incorporated into o the garden in order to increase the diversity of perennial items to sell. The farm partners with Sketchbook Brewery in Evanston (sketchbookbrewing website)
The website states that, “An urban farm is more than a place to grow food. It can be a source of jobs, internships, and volunteer projects. It’s a living classroom, community kitchen, and source of beauty. The farm is a place to “come home to,” where neighbors and friends can meet to work and learn together, celebrate the seasons, share a meal, enjoy the earth, and keep our community a vibrant place to live.”
Check the wonderful dinners coming up and plan a visit to this inspiring and renewing garden, plan to take a class, join a dinner, and/ or volunteer. Find more information at thetalkingfarm website
A great opportunity- The Talking Farm is partnering with Found Kitchen and Sketchbook Brewery (both of which buy produce from The Talking Farm) on a farm dinner on July 29th. Funds raised by this dinner will help support The Talking Farm’s expansion and development of the Farm – the more the farm produces, the more of a positive impact it has on the community. Tickets are available for purchase Here.
Photos: B. Keer