The biodynamic principles of Angelic Organics

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118477924523616.jpg’, ‘Photo by Drake Baer’, ‘Diana Nolden harvests turnips at Angelic North, an area that supporters of the Angelic Organics purchased and then leased to the farm. Nolden is training to be a farm manager.‘);

The Real Dirt on Farmer John documentary at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center Aug. 4, 12, 18

Galumphing down neatly-arranged rows, the eccentric “power-wiggle-hoe” seeds winter squash for the fall harvest. Two growers drop seeds into power-wiggled spaces, another drives the colorful contraption.

As to be expected, the “power-wiggle-hoe” is not the standard term for the machine in the agricultural industry, said Bob Bauer, who manages the farm while “Farmer” John Peterson is away. But this is not the standard farm, for lying north of Rockford at 1547 Rockton Road in Caledonia is the nouveau idyllic of Angelic Organics.

The farm, and its farmer, “Farmer” John, as he is known, have gained a notable amount of acclaim in the past year. A documentary about the farm, The Real Dirt on Farmer John, premiered in New York City weeks ago to much acclaim. The film has screened at more than 20 film festivals worldwide, and “Farmer” John is now on tour to support the film, with a staff writer from The New Yorker. The documentary will hit the screen at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., Chicago, Aug. 4, 12 and 18. For tickets, call (312) 846-2600 or visit

The success of the movie could lead to bigger things for the farm, Peterson said in a phone interview. “If it really breaks loose and generates capital, I envision a farm that’s more integrated, and not so heavily tilted towards production, but can actually integrate more components of agriculture in a balanced way,” he said.

This would include more veggies, grain, livestock, and even wild lands for wild animals. Peterson credits Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma for this new direction.

The farm is founded on biodynamic principles, an ecological take on farm management founded by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. In it, one piece of the farm feeds into another in a balance. Instead of trying to produce the most product, Angelic does what’s best for the farm.

They also use a different business model than conventional farming. Instead of wholesaling crops to stores or bringing produce to the farmers’ market, Angelic Organics relies on a community-supported agriculture, or CSA, system.

In a CSA, locals subscribe for 12 or 20 weeks of produce. Every week, three-quarter of a bushel boxes of a dozen or so items are sent out to pick-up locations in Chicago and Rockford, or are available on the farm.

There are more than a dozen CSAs in the northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin area, with more than 1,000 nationwide, according to LocalHarvest, an organic foods Web site.

Subscribers pay upfront, which provides a bottom line for the farm, one reason “shareholders” pick up their veggies rather than “subscribers,” said Lora Krogman, who studied experimental poetry before coming to the farm six years ago.

“You’ll hear people talking about ‘our farm’ and how ‘our crop’ is going to be this season. They really get involved,” she said. “They own a share of the harvest.”

The success of CSAs is changing the culture of agriculture, Peterson said. “Up to half a million people get their food from community-supported agriculture,” he said. “There’s a greater urban-rural connection. People in the cities are partnering with the farmers, relating to the weather differently, thinking about the seasons differently.”

The farm, and the farmers, try to be as inclusive as possible. “It’s something that people can access without feeling bad about the Coke they drink or the cookies they eat,” Krogman said, when asked about the politics of food.

“We try to be as local as possible, but it doesn’t always work out,” said Bauer. He figures that since the boxes of in-season vegetables are already going out, it doesn’t hurt to send some fruit along as well, most of it stemming from California.

The farm is at capacity, she said, with 1,350 shares, making it one of the largest CSA farms in the country.

Angelic Organics has spawned the Learning Center, which is a community and youth education outreach program. The farm also hosts programs where farmers can share ideas and techniques with one another, as well as a beginning farming workshop series.

The farm has volunteer opportunities on Saturdays, which go from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m., “a shorter day,” according to Krogman.

The farm is staffed by a mixture of locals, farmers, people who came to the farm without knowing the first thing about farming, but believing in the farm, Krogman said.

Jack Finnegan and Robert Benzek are students at Rockton Hononegah High School, and in the summer they work on the farm. Spending their summers on the farm is unlike anything else they could do at their age, they agreed.

“We’re raising things organically, and that’s good for the environment, and good for people,” Finnegan said.

For Peterson, trekking across the globe in support of the film is part of something much bigger. “You want to save the earth? It’s not going to come from some abstract concept, it will come from a deepening relationship with the Earth,” he said.

To contact Angelic Organics, call (815)389-2746 or visit For more information about community-supported agriculture and other alternative agriculture, LocalHarvest can be found online at

from the July 18-24, 2007, issue

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