On March 25th, Amy Randazzo of Grani’s Acres Farm was awarded the 2016 Beginning Farmer of the Year Award at the Good Food Festival and Conference in Chicago. The award, now in its 4th year, raises awareness for the importance of beginning farmers to the future of Illinois food and farming systems by recognizing the efforts of sustainable farmers in their first and hardest years.
This year, the award was presented by Routes2Farm.org, a new project by Angelic Organics Learning Center which connects both new and established farmers to farmer-vetted resources that help grow their businesses. The project is comprised of nine farmer alliances and support organizations that feed the Chicago food shed. Each farmer alliance nominated a finalist for the Beginning Farmer of the Year award from a pool of their own farmer members that submitted videos about their farms. The finalists and all of their videos can be viewed at Routes2Farm.org/farmaward. The winning nomination, Grani’s Acres, was submitted by Illinois Stewardship Alliance, a statewide non-profit organization supporting beginning and experienced farmers through policy development, advocacy, and education.
The video, featuring farmer Amy Randazzo of Grani’s Acres, captures an aspiration to change our world by returning to our roots – small, sustainable, seasonal, and chemical-free farming. Randazzo, a married mother of three and former accountant, began her farming venture four years ago after life events left her searching for more fulfillment in her work. After purchasing her grandparents’ horse farm, and with much encouragement from friends, Grani’s Acres was born.
“I think that the way our grandparents ate was a good way to eat,” said Randazzo. “They lived and died by the seasons. They ate what was up that week, and if it wasn’t up, they didn’t eat it. If we can get back to that, we’ll be doing a huge favor for the generations that come along behind us.”
Today the farm is truly a family affair with Amy’s brother, a retired navy veteran, and her 18 year-old son Mitchell both working on the farm regularly.
Not long after the creation of the farm however, Amy saw the need for farmers in her area to work together, instead of in competition with one another, in order to reach new markets. In 2012 Amy, with the help of farmers Kris and Marty Travis, spearheaded the Legacy of the Land LLC, a farmer cooperative consisting of 11 small farms near Bloomington, IL and the surrounding area. With Amy’s guidance and accounting skills, the farms pool their products and work together to coordinate crop production, marketing, and delivery systems in order to sell to wholesale markets under the Legacy of the Land name. Each farm also maintains its own independent farm identity in order to sell direct-to-consumer through farmers markets and CSAs.
“Amy is amazing,” says Molly Gleason, Communications Director at Illinois Stewardship Alliance. “The amount of work she has done in organizing and leading the Legacy of the Land group is incredible. She has not only helped to grow her own farm, but has helped to grow the surrounding farms in her area, and has made fresh, seasonal, sustainably-raised food more widely available throughout the surrounding communities. We’ve invited Amy to speak with farmers in other areas of central Illinois to share the farming cooperative model, and her knowledge, passion, and willingness to be of service always blow me away. She is incredibly deserving of this award.”
Randazzo also recognized a farmer that mentored her throughout her journey. She chose Marty Travis of Spence Farm and Spence Farm Foundation as the 2016 Mentor Farmer of the Year. Travis, a seventh generation farmer, has been a longtime advocate of the local and sustainable farming movement. Travis and his wife Kris formed their own farming cooperative “Stewards of the Land” in 2005 and was instrumental in forming the Legacy of the Land cooperative.
Randazzo says of Travis, “Every random – and sometimes out of the blue – question I have had along this journey, Marty has answered directly or has been able to point me in the right direction. His door is always open. He views new farmers not as competition – rather as part of the rising tide that it will take to restore our food system to its rightful place in society. Good food, grown responsibly, will find no bigger champion for its cause than Marty Travis.”
Travis says of the award, “Beginning Farmer of the Year draws attention to the success stories of small sustainable farmers. This is incredibly important. We need more of these farmers, not only because so many farmers are aging out of the profession, but also because the demand for good food is growing so rapidly.”
Interested parties can find Amy and her family at the Downtown Bloomington Farmers Market on Saturdays from 7:00am – 12:00pm, can learn about her CSA at www.granis-acres.com/csa-form.html, or can order Legacy of the Land products at www.market.thelegacyoftheland.com. For more information about Amy and her farm, check out the Grani’s Acres article on our Buy Fresh Buy Local Website.