Every year in this journey of developing Sola Gratia Farm to further serve our community, we find ourselves ready for another new step, twist, turn or leap. This year it’s a leap, or rather a few.

We have been teetering on the small to medium sized farm edge for a few years now, knowing that just a few more acres and investments in a more mechanized operation will allow us to achieve greater production with enhanced efficiencies. Last year, we were fortunate to receive
a grant from the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois (CFECIL) for the purchase of a plastic mulch layer that greatly reduced our weed pressure, and hence labor needs. We expanded our acreage in trial fashion at the Riggs Beer Company as well as intensified growing in
our onsite hoophouse. We purchased a 47 horsepower tractor and soon will be ordering a tiller and flail mower. At our February board meeting, we were awarded funds, again from CFECIL, to purchase another key piece of equipment, a water wheel transplanter. Each of these pieces has been key towards achieving our goals, but if anyone has looked in the shed or around the farm lately, you know we are already out of storage space and running out of clever ideas for repuzzling our storage needs.

We greatly need to build a storage building this Spring to house our existing and soon-to-be acquired equipment. Knowing this was going to be needed at some point, we have been saving funds for this purpose and have what we need to construct a hoop structure for equipment storage just east of the greenhouse. Albeit modest, this building, sized 30’ x 65’ x 15’, will both meet our near-term needs and provide sufficient space for anticipated growth and additional equipment purchases. The City of Urbana has approved a permit for this structure and we are working closely with John Warriner on the construction plan. With the equipment moving out of the shed and into the storage building, we then plan on redesigning the north part of the shed for an improved wash/pack area. We will be adding stainless steel sinks, new tables and wall coverings for better sanitation as well as improved lighting and ventilation. There are many food safety regulations that will be coming into effect for small farms in the next few years and our new design will help in keeping our produce and the washpack area clean, safe and in compliance. It should also be noted that with our reorganization, considerable storage space will be made available once again for church property and items.

The last leap to share…this year we were planning on taking the next step in expansion by increasing production on three acres at the Riggs Beer Co. site, while letting more of our land here behind St. Matt’s lie in cover crops to improve soil health. Meanwhile, we have been seeking
permission to, at some point, be able to grow our crops next door on the five acres to the north. (!!) This has been the big dream due to its proximity, soil health, and ability to draw water from our own well. A few weeks ago, the call came in delivering the news that we are welcome to rent this land for production this coming year!

We couldn’t be more excited to be at this point of development of the farm and feel 100% ready and able to take these leaps and know we’ll land on solid footing. All winter, I’ve been working with our community partners to make plans for enhancement of our mission with this increase in production (that Hunter has been working on). More details on these projects and programs soon!
Thanks for everyone’s support as we take these next steps. Please let me know if you have any questions, comments or concerns at solagratiacsa@gmail.com or stop by the office anytime myself, Hunter or Tod are around!


Springtime is coming, Sola Nation!

Okay okay, so the town was covered in ice a few days ago, and it feels like its still a ways off, but springtime is coming! The seed is ordered. The high tunnel will be planted with spring crops in the next week. The first tomatoes of the season have been seeded and are cooking in our germination chamber. Our onions have sprouted. Spring. Is. Coming. I have caught the excitement of the spring early this year, and I'm loving it. It must be all of the plans and partnerships that we're developing this winter. The last couple of seasons have started with warm temperatures and early last frosts. We're going to be ready if that trend continues.

The crop plan is finished. We've reviewed your surveys, taken all of your feedback into account, and made some changes. This crop plan informs the entire season's growing plan and ensures timely plantings of each of your favorite crops. We planted garlic last fall, so it'll be nice to have that this season (garlic scapes, anyone?). We're planning on expanding heavily on our head lettuce production, green beans, cucumbers, and a few other favorites. We're trialing a yellow version of your favorite Carmen red pepper. We've overhauled the tomato production system to account for our expanding market and donation needs.

In other news, its farm conference season. Traci and I presented at the Illinois Specialty Crops Conference in Springfield recently. I just returned from the 2nd annual Organic Vegetable Production, which has a unique format that allows growers to discuss specific crops in greater depth. I found the sessions on Pest Management and Cucumbers to be particularly interesting. Later this month, the MOSES Organic Farming Conference takes place in La Crosse, WI. It is the largest organic farming event in America. Attending that is always a wonderful experience, as people from all over the country come together to share their passion for organic farming. If you ever have a question about your garden or our growing methods: don't hesitate to ask. I'd be happy to share any of my knowledge to help you have your best garden yet!

See you soon!

What a year we just closed out! It seems like we are always propelling forward with the next step, plan, strategy, etc but I’d like to take some time now to fully recognize and share what we accomplished together this past year, because (as my family would say…), we are so stinkin’ proud!!

- Sola Gratia Farm is now a 501(c)3 not-for- profit corporation.
- We have expanded our acreage and are now growing veggies at the Riggs Beer Co. site and have been enjoying a fruitful and fun partnership with the Riggs family.
- After 5 years with walk-behind or borrowed tractors (many thanks!), we now have our own real tractor!! With the plastic mulch layer and now a new transplanter, we’ll be saving considerable time and our backs!
- We had a very successful first full year growing veggies in our high tunnel, both in terms of quality and quantity.
- We updated our logo to signify our most important aspect: community service!
- In order to expand our services to those in need in our community, we added two new markets in partnership with Champaign Urbana Public Health District and a cooking/nutrition class tied to CSA share with UIUC Extension.
- We secured grant funding to continue these pilot programs and start a new one with Salt and Light Ministry in the Spring of 2018.
- We offered a day camp through the Champaign Park District and bi-weekly programming at Douglass Park Community Garden for the fourth year running!
- We expanded our CSA offerings and partnerships to include fruit, in addition to veggies, bread, honey, meat, flowers, meat and eggs. (Mushrooms are next!)
- And thank goodness we installed a new walk-in cooler this year, because…

We had the most productive season yet!! This year we harvested a whopping 46,216 pounds of produce – that’s over two and a half times what we harvested last season!!! And even better? Nearly 16,000 pounds of high quality, naturally grown, fresh-picked, good food was donated into our community through the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, Champaign Urbana Public Health District, and other partners working on community food security.

            Harvested: 46,216 pounds                  Donated: 15,972 pounds or 34.6 %

We accomplished this together. Arm in arm, our staff, our board, our shareholders, St. Matthew Lutheran Church, our community and mission partners, our market managers and shoppers, our people. Thank you to each and every one of you who have contributed to our continuing achievements and community impact.

I recently read “Farming is a profession of hope.” Knowing we have so many people supporting our farm and mission with time, talents, ideas and care makes it all the more rewarding for Hunter, Tod and I to work on the planning process for 2018. Each of us feels so grateful to be trusted and supported to carry out such a beautiful vision, set in place six years ago. Thank you so very much for being a part of Sola Gratia Farm.

May 2018 be a year of good will for each of us.