River to River Farm
Surrounded by the gently sloping hills of the Shawnee National Forest, outside of little Tunnel Hill, Illinois, at the divide of the watersheds that belong to the Cache, Saline, and Ohio rivers, lives a troupe of goats, a mess of greens, and a couple of soon-to-be married land-lovers. Kris and Adriane have been farming for 4 years now and bringing their goods to a St. Louis market, as well as some newer Carbondale markets, of which they have been called the “Pablo Picassos of produce presentation; the divas of delicious displays; veritable virtuosos of vegetational visuals.”
Adriane is the Program Assistant at Food Works, the Southern Illinois food and farmer network. She and Kris have made significant contributions to the local food movement through the Southern Illinois Farm Beginnings program. (That’s how we met them). They have 10 goats this spring; 3 that produce milk, 6 kids, and 1 billy, or male adult goat. While they don’t currently sell any goat products, Adriane makes a mean chevre (goat cheese) for friends and family! They have a high tunnel, thanks to the financial assistance of the NRCS high tunnel program, and 2 “low” tunnels they constructed themselves. And we can’t forget the 2 watchdogs, Lakota and Max, the great protectors of their farm.
But the most interesting aspect of their operation, I think, is what Kris calls his “sand mandala” of raised beds. In Tibetan Buddhist culture, many hours are spent meticulously placing colored sand in a circular pattern called a mandala. After the mandala is complete, it is destroyed. This practice is an exercise in the ever-changing nature of material life. Kris spends many hours in the sun moving earth into raised beds placed at angles that will hold the rain water, rather than allowing it to wash down the slope. In fact, if we were to take an aerial photograph, we would see a visible backbone at the peak of the watersheds, where water flows down on either side. From this backbone, there have been dug numerous “ribs” that extend out and hold the water in the soil so that irrigating is not needed. And these are not your ordinary couple-of-inches beds, but a foot and a half deep trenches between the rows kind of beds, for serious water-holding capability. They immediately brought to mind Sepp Holzer’s hugelkulturs. That irrigation is unnecessary on this slope is mighty comforting for us in Oklahoma, with our limited rainfall. We may be practicing some Tibetan artwork in the near future.
Kris and Adriane’s situation is similar to ours in 3 ways. First, they currently live with Kris’ parents and this creates some small issues, such as the placement of long term projects and perennial plants. This is a phenomena we will have to get used to while we live under the same roof as the Potters, and before we get out onto our own land. Second, they maintain a blog about what’s happening at their farm, so that their market customers can be informed and also have access to ideas for the nutrient-dense greens they get from River to River. I feel that keeping up with their blog will help to keep us focused on ours. And of course, we can learn from each others’ ideas, mistakes, and achievements. Lastly, Kris graduated from the Central Illinois Farm Beginnings program. (We graduated from the Southern branch). Kris and Adriane both made contributions to our class’ repertoire. It will be interesting for “those that keep track” of the kind of successes that come from beginning farmers who have been involved in the beginning farmer programs. Do they really make us more focused and realistic in the small-farm business sense? With Kris and Adriane as a prime example, signs point to yes. No, they are not making thousands and driving the latest Case implement, but that’s not the life they desire. Like us, they yearn for simplicity and sustainability, and will always be a role model for working together to achieve those qualities.