Photo of Michelle Sirles with farmer t-shirt
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In the last few months, there is a good chance you might have seen someone wearing a t-shirt with the phrase “farmers are my kinda people.” This is one of the latest designs from Rendleman Orchards of Alto Pass. Their locally-grown-and-farm-themed t-shirts are popular, but their latest trademarked design has taken the country by storm. In just under 90 days, the shirt has been shipped to 49 states. 

Rendleman Orchards is a working commercial farm, growing and shipping truckloads of quality, hand-picked fruits and vegetables to commercial produce markets throughout the Midwest. Vice president Michelle Sirles, with her husband, company president Wayne Sirles, are the fifth generation selling and promoting “locally grown from our farm to your family.” Their marketing outreach spans the market, from Facebook to Instagram to the web.

“The farmers are my kinda people t-shirt is designed to celebrate farmers, the role they play in providing fresh food for all, and to let them know we are behind them during this difficult time,” says Michelle Sirles. Proceeds from each shirt sold are donated to the American Farm Bureau Foundation, furthering its mission of helping learners of all ages discover agriculture and the part it plays in their daily lives.

American Farm Bureau Foundation President Zippy Duvall said in a recent message that “times like these remind us of the tireless hours farmers and ranchers put in all year long to supply healthy, affordable food to be processed and packaged so stores can restock shelves, produce bins, and meat and dairy cases.”

“Food access took center stage during the pandemic as heartbreaking stories emerged of family farms across America struggling to sell their products. Despite the challenges, we know farmers are resilient folks; however, they need our support now more than ever,” says Susan Odum, University of Illinois Extension community and economic development specialist.

Illinois Farm Bureau, in partnership with Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton, Illinois Specialty Growers Association and FarmWeekNow, is showcasing Illinois farm and food businesses through the CultivatingOurCommunities campaign. “Buy local, buy local, and buy local, whenever you have the chance," Stratton outlined in her recent launch of the campaign. "Our farmers and small business owners are the backbone of our Illinois economy. If we hope to emerge from this crisis with a strong economy, we’ll need those local growers and producers to thrive in the marketplace.”

The Rendleman Orchards story is one of many Illinois farm stories featured in the new campaign. The Sirles hope to see lasting change as a result of COVID-19, as consumers gain a better understanding of the local and national food systems, a deeper appreciation for the American farmer, and a desire for a more intimate connection to the small farms that are feeding their families.  

Every farm has a story and every farmer could use a little extra encouragement right now. The farmers are my kinda people shirt is a caring way to show farmers just how much you appreciate the work they do every single day.

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Susan Odum is a University of Illinois Extension specialist in Community and Economic Development, specializing in community development and planning. She graduated summa cum laude from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale with a master of business administration. She received nationally-recognized certification as a professional community and economic developer from the Community Development Council. Her office is in Marion.