December News
Laura, Brad, and Trisha at the workshop during our annual cleaning day
Letter from our Executive Director
I’m terrible at holidays. I stink at the advance preparation and planning required for good gift-giving or decorating, I turn into all thumbs when I start to wrap a present or even write a meaningful card, and if anyone’s going to knock over a wine glass or drop the birthday cake at the event itself, it’s definitely going to be me. The necessity of finding a holiday-appropriate outfit can give me anxiety for days. 

I love a good celebration though, and I dare say I’m good at them too. I excel at both the preparation and eating of good food, I live for meaningful conversations that are best had around a shared table, and I find great joy and satisfaction in spending time with friends and loved ones. As I reflect upon the above, it appears I celebrate celebrations more than holidays because they are opportunities for meaningful ritual without the societal expectation of consumeristic glamour and excess. A celebration can be as big and ostentatious as you’d like or a small, solemn affair, and whichever size or approach you choose is the right one. 

This is why I love winter solstice. As the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice invites us to prepare for the return of the light by delving into the darkness. It inspires me to create a quiet, reflective space where grief, remembrance and self-forgiveness is possible but it’s also OK if I choose to just rest. This year, to celebrate winter solstice, if it’s a clear night I might hold a bonfire and search out the constellations; if not, I might simply light a few candles and curl up on the couch to read a book. If I doze off to sleep, how appropriate, really, for a day also known as the hibernal solstice. Similar to farming, the winter solstice centers me. It ties me to my physical place in this world, to my northern hemisphere-ness. Have you ever introduced yourself as a northern hemispherian? 

Wendell Berry says, “To go in the dark with a light is to know light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.” 

This past Saturday was filled with two glorious celebrations. On the personal side, my husband, oldest daughter and I attended a wedding in Milwaukee that had been postponed by the pandemic, and then almost postponed again. The delayed gratification added an extra layer of poignancy and party to the celebration, and we’re still feeling the joyful after effects of a night centered around love, friendship, commitment and hope for the future. On the professional side, our 2021 Stateline Farm Beginnings® participants came together to celebrate their graduation from a year-long preparatory course in farm business planning. We joyfully celebrate their hard-earned accomplishments and whole-heartedly welcome them into our community of active farmers and eaters-who-love-farmers. 

As we continue to celebrate the many holidays of the season, may your table be graced by food lovingly grown, carefully harvested, and deliciously prepared. May your gifts be beautifully wrapped, your drinks un-spilt, and your outfits on point. May you find time to rest. And most importantly, may you be surrounded by the love of your community as you shepherd in the light of a new season in the celebratory way that most fulfills your body, mind and soul. Happy Holidays.

-Jackie de Batista
Cheers to the Graduates
The 2021 Stateline Farm Beginnings® cohort gathered
virtually and in-person
Last weekend, the 2021 Stateline Farm Beginnings® students gathered with friends and family to celebrate their successful program completion - graduation. The twelve beginning and aspiring farmers represent nine innovative and sustainable farms and farm dreams. All made it through a year of experience and learning; which they shared with the group, along with the path they had walked in from, their vision for the future, personal milestones and accomplishments, their ideals to uphold, as well as their farm and business plans. In return, the gift of feedback and recognition was exchanged amongst this community of learning. We are sad to see them go, proud of their growth, and most excited for what they will be doing next. More information will be coming from us soon about how you can support these beginning farmers. Lastly, we are grateful to the Center for Agrarian Learning at McHenry County College for sharing their space and personnel during our hybrid sessions in 2021.
To learn more about the impact of our Farmer Training programs, read this interview with Andrea and Rebeca, participants of this year's Stateline Farm Beginnings® cohort. If you are interested in applying, today is the deadline to submit applications for the 2022 cohort. Details here.
Our Camps Just Leveled Up
As camp professionals, we understand that a parent's biggest concern for their child is safety. We also know parents have goals for their child’s development related to the powerful lessons the camp experience provides in community, character-building, skill development, and healthy living. We share those same goals, which is why we have taken the added step of becoming an Accredited Camp through the American Camp Association (ACA).

ACA Accreditation means that we passed a thorough (up to 290 standards) review of our operation by the American Camp Association, from staff qualifications and training to emergency management. American Camp Association collaborates with experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Red Cross, and other youth-serving agencies to assure that current practices at camp reflect the most up-to-date, research-based standards in camp operation.
ACA helps all accredited camps provide:
  • Healthy, developmentally-appropriate activities and learning experiences
  • Discovery through experiential education
  • Caring, competent role models
  • Service to the community and the environment
  • Opportunities for leadership and personal growth
On that note, all of our 2022 camp registrations are now open! We are happy to answer questions about accessibility, just contact programs@learngrowconnect.org.
What's Growing at Roots & Wings
Over the last month I had the pleasure of offering educational programming to local youth at Patriots Gateway Community Center (PGCC). PGCC provides after school programming for youth in the Rockford community, and was founded by Zion Lutheran Church. Over the years, Roots & Wings has partnered with Zion Lutheran Church in many ways and this is just a continuation of our partnership.

During our first meeting, the youth had an opportunity to decorate pumpkins that were left over from our fundraiser. Their designs were thoughtful, creative, colorful and amazingly artistic. Other activities included discovering fun facts about pumpkins (Ex: Did you know that Illinois is the largest producer of pumpkins in the United States). Also, the kids saved the seeds after carving them to roast and enjoy them at a later time. Finally, I brought them some “Gem Corn.” This is a popping variety of corn that was grown on our farm. The youth got a chance to remove the kernels from the cob to enjoy later along with their roasted pumpkin seeds.
My second meeting with the kids involved learning about vegetables in the pepper family. I brought an assortment of sweet and hot peppers and they got a chance to learn about the Scoville Scale. This scale rates the degree of heat (capsaicin) found in each variety of pepper. This gave them an opportunity to see how each pepper compared to one another before sampling them. We started off slowly by sampling sweet peppers and we gradually moved up to Jalapeño peppers. We had some brave souls who wanted to taste the Habanero pepper but this was for demonstration purposes only! Some of the kids were braver than others and we had milk available to those who thought some of the peppers were too hot. They also got a chance to taste and see how you can use the peppers to make homemade salsa and hot pepper jelly. The salsa was well received by all and the jelly was enjoyed by many (particularly the adults). 
I also got a chance to share with them the historical contributions Horace Pippin, an African American painter, made in preserving the Fish pepper. This pepper originally came from the Caribbean in the 1800’s and by 1900 it was nearly extinct. Horace would often use this seed to barter for other goods and services. As a result, every Fish pepper seed purchased today can be traced back to him. 

It has been nice to get to know these kids and I have enjoyed their enthusiasm, interest in trying new things, and asking great questions. They are eager for my next visit when we plan to enjoy butternut squash and potato soup with vegetables from our garden. I’m looking forward to seeing them again.

-Tedd Snowden, Roots & Wings Program Director
There is still time to show your support
We are over halfway to reaching our goal of raising $15,000 by the end of the year. Show your support for local food systems and donate, or invite a friend to donate, today!
Cooking Up Plans for 2022
We are happy to announce that we have received funding from the Illinois Department of Agriculture through the Specialty Crop Grant. This funding allows us to purchase equipment and hire staff to create a year-round educational cooking program. In the new year we will begin producing virtual and in-person classes about cooking great meals using local produce, all with the same heart you have come to expect from Learning Center programming.
Funding for this project was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant 39-29969. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.
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