The Illinois Department of Agriculture has named a fifth generation central Illinois farmer, Harold Wilken, the winner of the annual R.J. Vollmer Award for Sustainable Agriculture for 2015.
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Wilken, together with his wife Sandy, and son Ross, are the proprietors of Janie's Farm, based in Danforth, Ill. The farm's name honors Harold and Sandy's daughter Janie, who was killed in a car accident in 2001.
Janie's Farm produces corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, pumpkins, black beans, alfalfa, popcorn, and seed corn. Most of the 2,370 acres Wilken farms are USDA certified organic (1,900 acres), with 370 acres in second-year transition, and 100 acres in first-year transition.
Harold Wilken began farming 33 years ago, and credits his first landlady, 82-year-old Ivadelle Dubois, with trying to get him to "just say no" to chemical herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers. In 2003, when Harold began transitioning his first 33-acre field to organic, he quickly saw the benefits to the soil, and to his bank account. Not only were his input costs much lower, he was making far more money per bushel with the premium prices on organic grains.
But to Harold, the community and health benefits are even more important than the financial benefits. Because more eyes and hands are needed on a diverse, organic operation, Harold has been able to hire more and more people.
"The thing I learned right after I started to transition to organic," Wilken says, "is there are a lot of landowners out here who want their land farmed organically. I have been shocked at the number of people who have contacted us wanting to do this."
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Wilken is proud that his nephew, as well as his son Ross, who graduated from the U of I in 2013, now work full-time on the family farm. "My goal when I walk away," Harold says, "is to have more people working the land."
Janie's Farm is located at 2324 N. 1100 East Road, Danforth, IL, and you can follow the farm activities and farmers on Facebook.