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.


Award Details
How to Nominate (Eligibility & Selection Criteria)

2020 Winner

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.

2020 Nominees

This Old Farm

David & Roseanne Evans

It always feels good to do good. First Fruits Family Farms was established to do good. Good for the community, good for the environment, good for the soil, good for the animals, good for the customers, and good for the business.


First Fruits Family Farm is a family owned, holistic farm in rural Anderson, Indiana. David and Roseanne Evans and their five children have focused on creating an environmentally friendly, sustainable farm where animals are raised on as healthy of a landscape as possible. This holistic context builds healthy land, produces healthy animals, and provides healthy food to the community.


In their second complete year of business, First Fruits Family Farms was able to process 877 pasture raised Cornish-cross meat birds, 23 forest-raised pigs, and 15 grass fed cows. The farm is completely on a rent, not owned, farm model. Starting on only 5 rented acres in year one, and adding an additional 20 acre rental property in year two, the entire farm was launched with minimum investment to become a profitable farm enterprise. By the end of the second year, the farm has become profitable and self funded. Due to the high demand, farmers markets and connecting with local stores, year three is looking to be an even stronger growing season. Going into year 3, the farm will be farming 120 rented acres to sustain the rapid growth.


Three guiding principles have allowed for the substantial growth. 1. All infrastructure must be movable. This keeps all infrastructure costs to a minimum, and does not require heavy machinery or fossil-fuels to raise the animals. A single person can move the infrastructure without firing up an engine, or using costly systems 2. All animals are raised imitating the natural life cycles of the animals. The herbivores (cows) are completely grass fed, as their systems require, our pigs are raised in wood plots where they can forage for nuts, roots, and wild edibles, while being supplemented with a non- gmo feed, and the chickens are raised out on pasture where up to 30% of their diet is grass, bugs, and other insects. 3. All products that are created must be profitable. By maintaining clean and accurate records, all products can be priced and evaluated based on their profitability. This allows for rapid expansion with profitable products, adjusting processing, and cutting non-profitable products very quickly.


Even though First Fruits Family Farm is established to do good, it can be difficult to be profitable and to not abuse the community, environment, animals, or the customers. By maintaining the three guiding principles, First Fruits Family Farms has been able to achieve their objectives.


As a new farm, First Fruits Family Farm has been surrounded by key people in the community to help them succeed. One of the greatest assets has been This Old Farm, a processing facility in Colfax, Indiana. They have come along side, and provided valuable feedback, guidance, and assistance with the early obstacles faced by young farms. Many times when obstacles have been faced concerning product development, product offerings, and scalability, they have provided valuable insight to help the farm maintain its fast growing pace. One of the greatest obstacle ahead for the farm is the ability to grow at a sustainable pace while maintaining proper cash flow. By being self- funded and using very limited outside investments, maintaining a healthy and stable growth pattern will be a substantial problem to overcome. The farm is projecting to more than double production in year three.


The future is looking bright for First Fruits Family Farms. After a remarkable second year, 2020 will see a few additional product lines being launched. The plans are to add turkeys, and sheep to the ever growing list of products being offered. As each species is integrated into the farm process, new techniques are required to not go against our guiding principles. New movable sheep pens, and scalable turkey shelters are being designed to allow for the additional animals. Because of not using confinement buildings, or heavy infrastructure, special designs, management techniques and models must be developed to raise healthy animals.


As a member of the integrity local food model, First Fruits Family Farms is well aware that oft times the greatest hinderance to this local movement is its main ingredient – integrity. Only by maintaining solid grounding principles can First Fruits Family Farms continue to do good in its surrounding community.

The Land Connection

Katie Funk, Jonathan Funk, Jeff Hake

Funks Grove Heritage Fruits & Grains is a new farm built on deep roots. It intends to honor a legacy of stewardship and of producing delicious food while incorporating new ideas and responding to a changing rural landscape.


Siblings Katie and Jonathan Funk are the sixth generation of their family to grow up farming in Funks Grove, and their parents’ pure maple sirup operation and conventional grain production has supported and inspired them throughout their lives. In 2015, they started talking about their own ambitions for growing food in the grove and inviting people to share the beautiful place they call home. They began making plans, and this caused Katie to meet her future husband, Jeff Hake, who was working for The Land Connection at the time. The business was incorporated in 2016, and Katie and Jonathan began growing on a small piece of family land that year with a simple crop of buckwheat. That was followed by winter wheat, which was harvested in 2017, the same year they planted their first trees to establish an orchard on the property. Jeff joined the business in 2018, and they began selling their wheat berries, flour, and a pancake mix that used their wheat and maple sugar from Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup.


In the few years since, the farm has grown steadily and now offers a line of products that range from their whole wheat flour to baking mixes for pancakes, Jonnycakes, and muffins to an increasing line of fruit leather products called Fruit Wowzers, with plans for popcorn and seasoning products – all made with ingredients from their farm or other local producers. These products are regularly sold in six retail locations in Central Illinois and seasonally in others; in addition, they are sometimes used to make baked goods sold directly out of the Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup shop or used for in-store sampling events hosted by the farmers. The farm partners also forage a variety of fruits and vegetables from the rich timber of Funks Grove.


All of this growth has required a substantial amount of improvements on the farm. The existing pole barn has been significantly rehabilitated, and small-scale grain production has necessitated the purchase and repair of several pieces of equipment that are nearly impossible to find in the region, being considered outdated by large conventional grain farms, but are essential to an operation of their size. A fence encompassing a half-acre of current and future orchard was also constructed, which will now offer significant opportunities for expanding fruit production as well as other specialty crops to which they can add value and further expand their product offerings.


Through all of this, Katie, Jonathan, and Jeff have maintained a focus on the place of their farm in the world. Land stewardship is critical to the long-term goals of Funks Grove Heritage Fruits & Grains. The farm follows a crop rotation plan of food crops, cover crops, and fallow periods, with minimal tillage. A grant through the Fruit Guys Community Fund was secured in 2019, which allowed the farmers to create pollinator plots and predator habitats that have since flourished with activity, and a honey beehive has been installed by a neighboring beginning beekeeper. With an eye toward being active in policy advocacy, the farm also hosted a listening session with a US congressman in 2019 and a potluck organized by the Illinois Stewardship Alliance later that same year.


The farmers of Funks Grove Heritage Fruits & Grains deserve to be Beginning Farmers of the Year because of both their momentum and how much further they have to go. This year they harvested by far their largest wheat crop, are applying for a grant that would allow them to build a mill on the farm to process their own grain as well as that of other regional farmers, and were featured on Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton’s social media and hosted a farm visit with her. In a few years, they plan to expand their land base and knowledge base enough that they can establish a roadside-style diner in Funks Grove that almost exclusively uses local ingredients and is accessible to tourists and local residents alike. They plan to start offering classes on the farm, from yoga classes to farm education to wild plant tours. They plan to incorporate long-term agroforestry practices on significantly larger acreage and be able to employ more people in their region. They plan to share the bounty of Funks Grove with more of the world and make their farm a haven of profound compassion and beauty.

Tell us about your farm!

Founded in 2020, Hinata Farms is a farm located in Chicago, IL that focuses on growing Japanese and other Asian varieties of vegetables and herbs. In the Japanese language, “Hinata” means “a sunny place”. When written in kanji “日向” means “toward the sun”.


Our mission is to provide locally-grown and culturally-relevant produce for the Asian community of Chicago. Secondly, although our efforts are somewhat limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, we seek to create a space where Japanese and other Asian Americans can connect to the earth and their food heritage.


The farm currently grows on a 1/8-acre incubator plot located in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood.


Why do you farm?

There are two major things that motivate me to farm. The first is ecological. As someone who had only lived in urban areas, I felt my connection and appreciation for nature was too theoretical and not enough based on firsthand experiences. This led me to become more and more interested in plants and eventually pursue a career in farming. I began to read books on various farming practices and approaches and there was one that stood out among the rest, and that was One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka.


Fukuoka’s approach is one in which we work WITH nature to grow. Its major principles include:

  1. Human cultivation of soil, plowing or tilling are unnecessary, as is the use of powered machines
  2. Prepared fertilizers are unnecessary
  3. Weeding, either by cultivation or by herbicides, is unnecessary; instead, only minimal weed suppression with minimal disturbance should be used
  4. Applications of pesticides or herbicides are unnecessary.


It’s an approach that has the utmost respect for nature and it has deeply influenced the way I grow at Hinata Farms. Although at our current site, we face some major limitations to employing these practices (small land, temporary lease, raised bed separated from contaminated urban native soil), we try to incorporate as much of these principles as possible. It may be a slow process of careful observation and trial and error, but I truly believe it will be worth the effort, especially from an ecological perspective.


The second reason I farm is to be able to connect to my Japanese heritage. I was born and raised in the Edgewater and West Rogers Park neighborhoods of Chicago in a family who bonded through food. Some of my fondest memories are helping my mom cook Japanese food, especially Osechi (traditional Japanese New Year food). For ingredients, we would go to the Korean, Chinese, or Vietnamese grocers to find the closest equivalent, or make the trek to the northwest suburbs to the Japanese supermarket, Yaohan (now Mitsuwa).


Three decades later, my mom has since passed, but my family and I still carry on those cooking traditions. While we still do not have a Japanese grocer in the city, we now have our farm to be able to grow many of the veggies that we would have had to drive almost an hour to access. We’ve even been able to grow things that you would only find in Japan. Since starting the farm, one of the most rewarding aspects has been to be able to provide other Japanese Americans in Chicago, who each have their own relationship and memories with the food, access to veggies from their heritage. In the future, I hope to move to a more permanent land situation and be able to grow perennial Japanese crops and produce Japanese value-added products.


What farmer alliance in Routes to Farm are you involved with and how many years have you been involved?

I have been involved with Advocates for Urban Agriculture for about a year and a half. From the beginning, when Hinata Farms was just an abstract concept, they assured me that there was value to what I wanted to create. I have learned so much from meeting with their staff, attending their various training sessions, and from the community of farmers that they have connected me with. They are a hard-working, generous, knowledgeable, and compassionate bunch and I’m truly grateful for the work that they do.


Tell us how your Mentor Farmer has guided you along your new farm journey.

Kerem Sengun has helped me immensely through my first season of running a farm business. He generously shared the knowledge he gained from being one of the few for-profit urban farms operating in Chicago proper. Not only did he provide guidance with crop plans and developing markets, but especially in this year of COVID-19 and having to constantly reassess and pivot business strategies, this year has been made less daunting to know that he was just a phone call away.


What is the biggest obstacle you face or have overcome as a beginning farmer?

The biggest obstacle has been learning the business side of the operation. I love growing, but sales, accounting, and marketing are not intuitive or things that I particularly enjoy. I still have much to learn, but I’m proud of what I’ve been able to do so far.


What is new on your farm next season? How are you innovating or growing and why?

Next season I plan to spend another year at the incubator site and increase production by being more efficient and thoughtful in my practices based on the mistakes and lessons from this season. I hope to continue testing out different Asian crops and varieties to see what grows well our Midwest climate. I also plan to increase the number of CSA spots to be able to accommodate the people currently on our waitlist.

Meet beginning farmer Kyle Reed of Hilltop Community Gardens in Mt. Pulaski!


As a first generation farmer, Kyle Reed didn’t grow up on a family farm knowing that he would go into agriculture– he fell in love with it all on his own. Kyle’s farming adventures began in college when he became involved with an organization turning abandoned urban lots into community gardens. After a member of the organization gave him a Wendell Berry book, Kyle was hooked. He started a two-year dairy grazing internship in Wisconsin. Since then, he has been picking up the tricks of the trade as a farm hand across Wisconsin and Illinois. When a unique opportunity to manage his own farm came up in Central Illinois, Kyle was ready and Hilltop Community Gardens was born.


Situated right on the edge of Mt. Pulaski township, the farm grows a wide variety of fruits and vegetables—kale, beets, lettuce, radishes, broccoli, sweet corn, and more—  and has plots available for community members to grow their own food. He works to grow his produce in harmony with nature and without synthetic chemicals. Much of the produce Kyle raises at Hilltop Community Gardens is destined for the newly opened Market on Hill Grocery Cooperative, a community-owned grocery store in rural Mt. Pulaski. When the town lost their grocery store several years back, residents were left without access to fresh food. Kyle and area residents formed a board and worked together for over a year to bring the new community-owned grocery store to fruition. The Market on the Hill is now one of just two rural grocery cooperatives in the state. It’s not the only project Kyle has a major hand in though, he is also working with the Mt. Pulaski Economic Development Board, area farmers, and institutions to explore the creation of a food hub.


If launching a farm, helping to open a grocery store, and advancing a food hub project weren’t enough for his first official year of managing his own farm, he’s also done it all in the midst of a pandemic. When shelter-in-place orders were first announced, he quickly set up an online store and navigated the tricky world of being web manager, tech support, customer relations representative, and farmer all in one. But through it all, Kyle never stops smiling.


The world is a better place thanks to farmers like Kyle.


You can find Kyle’s produce at the ALMH farmers market in Lincoln, the @oldcapitolfarmersmarket in Springfield, and the newly opened Market on the Hill Cooperative in Mt. Pulaski. If you see Kyle around, say hi, or share words of welcome and encouragement 🙂

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

2020 Information

Benefits to Participation

  • Builds credentials with the farmer’s customer base.
  • Broadens the farm’s visibility through features on,,, and as well as  farmer alliance websites and social media outlets.
  • Benefits from using the submission essay in the farm’s own marketing and social media presence.
  • Features the farm in alternative agriculture publications and local press in collaboration with staff support at Angelic Organics Learning Center and FamilyFarmed.
  • Publicity through Angelic Organics Learning Center, whose distribution list reaches more than 9,000 people. Additional publicity on the distribution lists of FamilyFarmed and participating Farmer Alliances.
  • Raises the public profile of your nominating farmer alliance.


Award Details

  • Beginning Farmer of the Year award winner receives a $1,000 award and publicity in a public marketing campaign.
  • Winners will be notified in early September.
  • The Beginning Farmer of the Year and the Mentor Farmer of the Year will be featured in a press release, and need to be available for various media interviews. 


Nomination Details

  • The nomination period for the 2020 Beginning Farmer of the Year Award ends Friday, July 17th, 2020.
  • Each organization in Routes to Farm can submit ONE unique farmer nomination per award period.
    • Two organizations should not nominate the same farmer.
    • The nominee must agree to be a part of the competition beforehand and to agree to be publicized in marketing campaigns if selected as a winner. If the awardee is unwilling to be publicized, this will result in disqualification.
    • We recognize the name of this award is singular, ‘farmer.’ We also recognize many farms have a pair of owners. The award will recognize multiple farmers who own and operate the same farm.
  • Submission essays should be a minimum of 250 words, maximum 1000 words. Submission of photos and/or videos of the farm and farmer(s) are also strongly encouraged.
  • Essays should include: The nominee farm name, name(s), and why they deserve to win this award with whatever wording you see fit (keep it PG, please!).
  • The farmer must be in their first 10 years of farm business operation to be eligible for nomination.
  • The organization that nominates the winning farmer will receive a $200 award.
  • Submit essays, photos, and videos to