A hair-brained dream, nearly 30 years in the making, is literally taking root on our farm. As a young, wide-eyed doctoral student in the late 1980’s, I set out to convince subsistence cattle ranchers in Costa Rica to plant leguminous (fix their own nitrogen) trees in their pastures as a way to improve the soil fertility and provide their cattle with more nutritious forage. It wasn’t a totally far-fetched idea; they already had these same trees growing as “living fences” around their pastures, and they knew that their cattle loved to eat the tree leaves.
I found five farmers willing to let me plant trees in their pastures; perhaps it was my “gringa” charm, perhaps they too thought it might be a good idea. After three years of planting trees, cutting branches for the cattle to eat, collecting soil and plant samples and gaining the trust of these farmers, I left Costa Rica to analyze my data and write my dissertation. Several of the farmers kept their trees, pruning them occasionally to feed to their cattle; others took out the trees when the study was completed. Aside from demonstrating obvious improvements in their pastures and their cattle, I was humbled by the farmers’ determination to make their own choices about what to plant and how to plant it.
My years as an agroforestry evangelist gave way to other passions-composting and organic waste recycling eventually led me to goat cheese and goats and a life of farming. When we reclaimed the highly degraded east fields of our home farm and planted prairie seeds over a decade ago, little did we know that my adventures with silvopasture would re-emerge. As the prairie plants took hold, cottonwood seedlings inched their way into the wetter parts of the prairie. The goats would perform feats of athleticism, stretching their necks while standing on their hind legs for the coveted leaves of the cottonwood trees. Wes and I knew that someday, we would intentionally plant trees for our goats to browse in our pastures.
It has been a couple of weeks now since we planted nearly 1500 tree seedlings into our new farm’s pasture, and they are beginning to leaf out. Willows, maples, dogwood and poplar, to name a few, are reaching skyward soaking up the recent rain dumps. The neat rows of skinny woody saplings with sprigs of green on top warm my heart. We still have more to plant, and the weeds will take over the newly planted forage alfalfa if we’re not careful, but the experiment in goat silvopastures has begun. This time, I’m a lot older and I’m the farmer taking the all the risk. I’d like to believe I still retain the remnants of my agroforestry evangelism.
Victory Cheese-Choose it OR lose it!
Time is running out to get this special Rick Bayless-All Illinois Victory Cheese Box-now through 4th of July weekend! The box features three Illinois farmstead cheeses (Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery chevre, Marcoot Jersey Creamery sharp cheddar and Ludwig Farmstead Creamery Kickapoo). You can either pick it up at the farm (please pre-order through our online store) on Saturdays, 1-4 pm OR you can have it shipped. If you haven’t seen Chef Bayless’ video talking about our Victory Cheese Box and making a recipe of chilaquiles featuring our fresh chevre, you MUST check it out!
Urbana’s Market at the Square-Come early to get the best selections!
Tomatoes AND peaches are making their debuts at the Urbana Farmers’ Market, which, to me, scream two cheeses: FETA and CHEVRE!
Score some large slicing tomatoes at the market (worth waiting in line), cut them thick, drizzle with olive oil and nice flake salt and then crumble our feta over the top. If you want to get “fancy,” chop some fresh basil and sprinkle on top.
For the peaches, cut them in half (take out the pit obviously), grill or roast them lightly, whip some chevre with a little heavy cream and a splash of maple syrup or honey and spoon the whipped chevre into the top of the peach half—instant dessert!!
As you know by now, the market is open with some restrictions to ensure the safety of farmers and patrons alike. If you haven’t already reviewed the markets rules for operation under “COVID 19 restrictions, please check them out on the “Market at the Square” website. We take your orders at one section of our stand and fulfill them in another. We will have a Square card reader set up for you to swipe your card for payment. If you bring cash, we will give you change (and sanitize our hands between transactions). We haven’t been experiencing the long lines of our fellow produce farmers, so come get your cheese FIRST and then stand in line for veggies. Gelato pints are ONLY available through online farm store sales/farm pick up.
Fresh Chevre $8/each
--herbs de Provence
Angel Food-our little “crottin” style bloomies—aging nicely but still firm, fudgy in texture and simply delicious! $9/each
Little Bloom on the Prairie: our goat milk camembert style cheese-aging nicely with a gooey layer next to the rind; buttery mushroom flavor $11/each-LIMITED THIS WEEK
Black Goat: our ash-ripened bloomy; it’s young and firm but with a lovely yeast aroma $11
Fleur du Prairie-bloomy rind cheese adorned with dried herbs and edible flowers; also young but tasty $11/each
Goat Milk Feta—aged in whey brine, tangy with a creamy-crumbly texture $7 each
If you can’t make it to the market, no worries. You can order online by 10 AM Saturday for Farm Pick-Up between 1-4 pm. Gelato pints are available for farm pick up ONLY-limited flavors this week (Vanilla—only 3 pints left, Chocolate and Fresh Mint for sure).
Other Opportunities to Purchase Our Products
If you’re not able to buy our cheeses in person, you can order online for shipping. We ship on Tuesdays and Wednesdays each week. There are also lots of retail establishments throughout central IL and the Chicagoland area that carry our cheeses.
Farm Open Hours and Offerings this Summer
We have decided to open the farm on Sunday afternoons to visitors, with some restrictions. From 1-4 pm, you can peruse our farm store, enjoy a cup of gelato or a cheese board with wine/beer/other beverages under our pavilion, visit with the goats (no petting, just viewing) and just enjoy the rural outdoors. All visitors must wear masks and practice social distancing while visiting the farm.
A lot of folks are wondering about farm tours, events and dinners on the farm. We have decided to put those on hold for the next few months to keep everyone safe. We hope things will be better in the fall, and if so, we plan to schedule a couple of special cheese tastings and farm dinner events then. Regarding our orchard, most likely, there will not be enough fruit for u-pick this year, but you will be enjoying whatever fruit we get either through the farm store or in the forms of jam or gelato.