July 18, 2022

Program Advancing Farmland Ownership Expands To Chicago

COOK COUNTY, Ill. — An innovative program designed to build equity and resiliency in food systems around metro regions has expanded to the Chicago area, The Conservation Fund announced today. The national nonprofit’s Working Farms Fund program supports next-generation farmers with a pathway to farmland ownership, all while conserving endangered farm sites around metropolitan areas.

The Conservation Fund launched this program in Atlanta in 2019 to help address that region’s growing need for healthy, locally grown food. Urban regions across the country are struggling with food security and farmland loss while farmers face inequity in access to land and capital. Nationally, finding access to high-quality land is one of the greatest barriers faced by farmers and aspiring farmers, and it is one of the reasons farmers are choosing to leave the agriculture industry.

To address this, the Working Farms Fund is now expanding to a second region by acquiring its first farm in the Chicago-metro area: a 30-acre site that will be used to help scale production by Garlic eScape LLC.

Owned and operated by Silvia Abel-Caines and her husband, Art, Garlic eScape is a woman-owned business that grows organic garlic and healing foods. To date, Garlic eScape has operated at a relatively small scale. By collaborating with the Working Farms Fund, the farm is scaling up its operations at the new, 30-acre farm site in Woodstock, Illinois. This space will allow Garlic eScape more land for growing, curing and processing crops using organic methods that support healthy soil, water and habitat. It also will give customers easier access to its products and new opportunities, such as on-farm classes and events.

“Growing healthy foods close to where people live has become a reality for us,” said Silvia Abel-Caines. “We’re excited about being the first Working Farms Fund farm in metro Chicago — and we’re looking forward to seeing other farmers with our same aspirations partake in this great program.”

The Conservation Fund’s Working Farms Fund is supporting Garlic eScape’s expansion by purchasing the Woodstock farm property and entering into a lease-to-sell agreement with the farm business. The Fund will protect the farm site with a conservation easement, allowing a future sale to Garlic eScape at its reduced, agricultural value.

“While our nation has immense inequity in land ownership, the Working Farms Fund is a powerful model to help make high-quality farmland more accessible. At the same time, the Working Farms Fund will make sure the productive land base around metro Chicago remains available to grow healthy, nutritious foods,” said Emy Brawley, Illinois state director at The Conservation Fund. “We’ve seen it work in Atlanta and we are excited to bring the program to Chicago.”

Funding for the Working Farms Fund’s metro-Chicago launch was provided by Food: Land: Opportunity, a collaboration between Kinship Foundation and The Chicago Community Trust, funded through the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust.

“The Working Farms Fund is an innovative model for local food farmers to access and ultimately own land while also protecting the natural resources of our region,” said Lenore Beyer, director of conservation initiatives at Kinship Foundation. “Farm businesses that are close to urban markets on land which they can afford have a greater chance of successfully scaling their business to provide locally grown fresh food for Chicagoland. Food: Land: Opportunity is happy to support the growth of this farmland access project and its potential to attract additional capital investment in the resilient local food economy.”

A conservation easement on the Garlic eScape farm will help ensure the land remains in farming and is not lost to development. The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and Grand Victoria Foundation have allocated funding to support the conservation easement, and additional easement funding has been identified through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). NRCS’s RCPP funding helps partners around the country expand the collective ability to address issues impacting farming, watersheds and regional natural resources. RCPP was reauthorized and funded by U.S. Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill.

The Land Conservancy of McHenry County, a key partner to the Working Farms Fund program, will hold the conservation easement. The Conservancy works across McHenry County to support farmland protection, land access and healthy food production.

“This is the first in what we hope turns into more farms preserved and transitioned to the next generation of farmers,” said Linda Balek, farm program manager with the Land Conservancy of McHenry County. “Getting access to land is a beginning farmer’s biggest challenge and the Working Farms Fund is a way to make it possible.”

Prior to The Conservation Fund’s purchase of this 30-acre farm site, it was owned by the Kelly/Edgren family and known as Timbertop. The owners, whose family settled on the farm in the 1920s, decided to work with The Conservation Fund because they wanted to see their family’s land remain in agriculture as a protected farm. In a statement, the family said, “The families of William and Edith Kelly are ​grateful to The Conservation Fund and The Land Conservancy of McHenry County for their help in preserving Timbertop. Maintaining the land for farming and wildlife was a passion for the Kellys that has been passed on through the generations. We are all pleased to welcome Silvia and Art to Timbertop and hope they enjoy it as much as we have.”

To date, the Working Farms Fund has acquired seven Atlanta farm sites, securing 675 acres for next-generation farmers. More than 85% of farm businesses in the program are minority-, immigrant- or woman-owned, demonstrating the program’s ability to advance equity in farmland ownership. Learn more at conservationfund.org/our-work/working-farms-fund.

About The Conservation Fund

At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than 8.5 million acres.

Contact: Josh Lynsen | 703-908-5809 | jlynsen@conservationfund.org