Kristen Dimas standing in the humming bird habitat at Southside Occupational Academy

Kristen Dimas, a life-long gardener, used 2020 to invest in her education by completing two University of Illinois Extension training programs in Cook County— the Master Gardener program and the Master Urban Farmer Training Program (MUFTP). Over the past two years, she’s put her new knowledge to work.

garlic growing in a raised bed in March 2022

On a warm spring day with four varieties of garlic just beginning to poke out of the ground, Natasha Nicholes, urban farmer and Chicago native, describes her vision for the corner of 120th and Union. “The original site here on northwest corner will be a community gathering and learning space which will extend west to the bike path with a children’s nature play area. Over there on the SE corner will be the full working farm, with a farm stand located on the SW corner.

raised beds overflowing with vegetables

 “One of the first things we learned during the Master Urban Farmer Training Program (MUFTP) was you can’t do everything,” explains Mary Harkenrider, urban farmer, Illinois Extension Master Gardener, and 2019 MUFTP graduate. “We’ve taken that lesson to heart. You have to define what you are there for because you’re pulled in all these different directions.

a view of El Paseo's urban farm

Paula Acevedo talks quickly and passionately pointing left and right as we walk through El Paseo Community Garden. “This is a work of love,” says the 2016 graduate of the Master Urban Farmer Training Program, MUFTP.

Oscar Villa, urban beekeeper, approaches his hives along the Metra tracks

Approaching the hives along the Metra tracks on Chicago’s south side the smell of grass smoke intensifies as Oscar Villa, beekeeper and owner of Bee-utiful Honey, waves his smoker. “Don’t worry. Come closer. Young bees tend not to sting, and they are the ones busy working in the hive,” declares Villa. “Most of the older bees are out gathering pollen at this time of day.

Kevin Lindley in one of his high tunnels

 “I blame this on my Granny Flo,” Kevin Lindley, urban farmer and executive director Green Pastures Eco Community Farm, shakes his head and declares while standing in a high tunnel located on his 5-acre non-profit farm in Chicago’s south suburbs. “When I was growing up, she took me to U-pick farms in northern Indiana and southern Michigan. We would pick beans, corn, strawberries, and apples and bring them home to preserve and share with the family. I don’t know why she chose me, but I was the only grandchild who ever went with her.

Pereira record keeping in the field c. 1990. Electronic and paper-based records.

Living on the edge. Hustling. Working dawn to dusk, sunup to sundown, or 24-7. Nearly every farmer uses these words to describe their life. This endless work is not surprising given that farmers must be experts in growing crops, post-harvest handling, food safety, staff management, marketing, and selling plus have skills in tractor and small engine repair, contruction, basic plumbing, and electricity. Despite the hard work, many farmers straddle precariously on the edge of profitability, struggling to pay themselves and save for retirement.

Path through prairie grass

Your vision is what you want your world to look like in the future.

Businesses or projects are created to change the future by creating a product or filling a service gap. Getting clear about what you want to change helps you to plan your business, run your business, and when the time comes, change or shift your business.