Beginning Farmer of the Year

Beginning Farmer of the Year Award


Angelic Organics Learning Center and the Upper Midwest CRAFT farmer alliance launched the Beginning Farmer of the Year and Mentor Farmer of the Year awards in 2013 in order to celebrate and promote the individuals who are entering sustainable farming and the experienced farmers in regional farmer alliances who generously mentor the beginning farmers. The winner of this award selects the Mentor Farmer of the Year, honoring an experienced farmer who generously provided mentoring at some time during their first ten years of startup.  Beginning in 2016, these awards have been sponsored by the collaborating Farmer Alliances in Routes to Farm, serving beginning farmers across the greater Chicago foodshed. Keep an eye out for 2022 nominees later this year!


Award Details
How to Nominate (Eligibility & Selection Criteria)

2021 Beginning Farmer of the Year Winner


Angelic Organics Learning Center

Vanessa Quiñones

Victory Garden Farm (VGF) sits on 5 beautiful acres in Fredonia, WI. VGF’s mission is to raise high quality, nutrient dense food using sustainable, organic farming methods with a specific focus on heirloom produce and heritage animal breeds. Ever since its inception in 2015, the farm has secured multiple certifications, with a clear and continuing commitment to sustainable and organic practices. VGF is USDA-Certified Organic through Midwest Organic Services Association (MOSA), and certified Animal Welfare Approved through A Greener World.


Vanessa Quiñones, the dynamic owner-operator of VGF, joined the farmer training community in 2014 as a Stateline Farm BeginningsⓇ participant. She started with some field experience and a farm dream. Since completing the course, Vanessa’s accomplishments are abundant. She built her farm business completely debt-free and VGF has increased profits each year. The farm operates a successful farm store, with its products having been featured on many local restaurant menus. Quiñones understands the need to pivot and the viability of her farm has strengthened in just a few short years. This year, despite the constraints of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, VGF doubled in size and hired its first two employees. Her latest accomplishment? Vanessa went on vacation at the end of the 2021 growing season – something all farmers know as a feat to behold.


Vanessa is an excellent role model to beginning farmers. She uses her experiences and accomplishments as an opportunity to give back to others and embodies leadership in the community. At the height of the COVID pandemic, when many farmers were struggling to restructure to meet increased demand, Vanessa launched the first REKO ring in the state of Wisconsin as a way to partner with and support other local producers and feed her community. Her impact came full circle when she returned to in Stateline Farm BeginningsⓇ in 2021 as a farmer panelist and a mentor to a current program participant and aspiring farmer.


Vanessa masterfully balances her passion with the realities of the unforgiving trade. When asked, what advice do you wish you would have listened to in pursuing your farm dream? Vanessa says: “Start small! Do not take on too many enterprises at once.” Great advice from a farmer who has learned to roll with the punches.

2021 Nominees

The Land Connection

Colleen Ruhter


Advocates for Urban Agriculture

Kwamena Jackson


Illinois Stewardship Alliance

Christine Johnson


2020 Beginning Farmer of the Year


Angelic Organics Learning Center

Dulce Morales

I’m Dulce Morales, manager of Cedillo’s Fresh Produce urban farm in Chicago with my husband and business co-founder, Juan Cedillo. Since 2017, Cedillo’s Fresh Produce (CFP) has grown and sold a wide variety of locally and organically grown vegetables at community-based farmers markets in south Chicago. I lead our farm’s marketing and outreach.


Cedillo’s Fresh Produce began our operation in 2017 at Angelic Organics Learning Center’s Eat to Live incubator farm in Englewood. We market our vegetables through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and farmers markets. In 2019, we sold 15 CSA shares and at 6 different markets but shifted to sell 30 CSA shares this year in response to coronavirus, because we worried that many markets wouldn’t open. Our CSA shares sold out within 2 weeks, proving demand for their food is growing, and we will still sell at 2 farmers markets. We also coordinate volunteers and production at the Princeton Street community garden, which is located directly across the street from the incubator farm.


Part of our success is due to the fact that CFP intentionally grows food for African-American and Mexican communities who live in our local neighborhoods. Local residents have historically only had access to foods detrimental to their physical health, at supermarkets selling vegetables shipped in from other places. CFP wants to ensure everyone has access to delicious, locally-grown organic produce. We’ve seen demand for our vegetables continue to grow and often are tagged on social media by many of our excited CSA customers when they cook with our produce. We’re excited to see how people utilize our produce and also how happy they are with the freshness of our vegetables.


We currently sell at Plant Chicago, at Davis Square Park and we’re also active in establishing new markets. We’ve worked closely with the Jardineros de la Villita Coalition for the past two years to establish a new farmers market in Chicago’s primary Mexican neighborhood, La Villita. CFP will be one of 6 farmers to offer fresh, organic and locally grown produce in this neighborhood for the first time this summer.


A big part of the incubating experience is about sharing knowledge, resources, and even helping hands when necessary. Cedillo’s Fresh Produce has benefited from what others have shared, and we’re now at the point of paying it forward. We participated in Advocates for Urban Agriculture’s Farmers Mentorship Program, which was a grant program designed to pair up farmers with a few years’ experience with brand new farmers. Within this program, we were able to share our experience growing for African American and Mexican communities with Catatumbo Co-op, a new farming cooperative with a similar mission. It was a wonderful experience where we could turn around and offer similar help that we’ve received from Angelic Organics Learning Center, Windy City Harvest and Plant Chicago to other beginning farmers.


It would be a great honor to win Routes to Farm’s Beginning Farmer of the Year award. We are passionate about farming and growing organic produce, and are equally passionate about supporting lower income communities with fresh, healthy food, especially in difficult times like these. If I’m honest, there are times we neglect our own needs in order to fulfil our life’s passion. This award will raise visibility of our farm within the community to help us increase business, which will in turn help us support our family. Whether working at the Eat to Live incubator farm or at the Princeton Street community garden, we are dedicated to being an oasis of fresh organic food for our neighbors and fellow low income community members. Thank you so much for your vote.

2019 Beginning Farmer of the Year


Illinois Stewardship Alliance

Mariah and Greg Anderson

Triple M Farms: Mariah's Mums & More

2018 Beginning Farmer of the Year


Upper Midwest CRAFT

Yoram Shanan

Sandbox Organics