One of my earliest memories of a food is of a sour cherry. As kids, my sisters and I would climb to the roof of our treehouse to pick the very highest ones off our backyard cherry tree. Then we’d sit on the patio removing the pits (and the occasional worm) with paperclips, until we had buckets and buckets of pie-ready cherries. We knew those pies would be darn good and fresh, because we had picked the cherries from our very own tree.
After visiting Trogg’s Hollow, a 2-acre farm in Elgin, Illinois, I was reminded of this simple yet seemingly far-off notion of completely natural food. Chris and Julie began their own garden not as a business, but as an extension of their values. A bounty crop year led them to the decision to start selling shares. They attended the State Line Farm Beginnings class run by Angelic Organics, which gives sustainable farmers the business knowledge to succeed. Now in their third year operating as a CSA, have expanded their personal garden to a business, selling 35 shares to local, like-minded eaters.
In the old days, Chris reminisces, growing naturally wasn’t trendy or extraordinary; rather, that was just “what you did.” Like their parents and grandparents before them, both Chris and Julie grew up in the city, but they always had gardens. The couple cites this upbringing – planting, growing, foraging, and preserving everything completely naturally – as the roots for their life as working farmers today.
In a way, this way of life is a blast from the past! Gone are the modern labels and certifications that we’ve come to love so much these days. The only label Trogg’s Hollow uses is “local.” Because everything else is just the way they farm and live. Their goal is to be “as natural as possible,” which goes hand in hand with being “as sustainable as possible,” according to Chris. And instead of using USDA criteria, Chris and Julie measure the natural- and organic-ness of their farm by their kids being able to come out, pick a tomato, and eat it without worrying about chemicals. That’s why they don’t use any pesticides or fertilizers at all – even organic herbicides used by certified organic growers are poisonous to humans, something Chris says is allowing corporations to redefine what it is to be natural. Their sustainability methods are similar to John Jeavons’ model of biointensive growing, but Chris humbly denies being an expert in the field – “it’s just similar to what our grandmas did,” they say.
Just as Chris and Julie learned from their grandparents, they hope to pass down the essential knowledge to their own four youngsters. Their goal is “to give back more than we take away,” and a major vehicle for this is the kids. Because raising kids with a good foundation of values is the only surefire way of creating conscious eaters, and healthy individuals as well. It’s hard not to notice how Chris and Julie’s unique ways have rubbed off on their kids as they begin to understand the impact they will have on the world. For one thing, they like salad! But more importantly, they do science fair projects related to compost and soil, and the eight-year-old already wants to take over the farm. All in all, I think I figured out a solution that’s easy as (cherry) pie. We teach our kids good eating habits, and we’re on our way to a healthier lifestyle for both ourselves and for the planet.
Cheers to youth and longevity – the pie’s the limit!