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My name is Alison Parker, and I am a city girl-turned-farmer.

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I live on a 32-acre conservation farm where we rent a house, a barn, and the land. From here my husband and I own and run Radical Root Farm with our two young sons. We serve over 200 families through our organic CSA and many more through our farm stand and two Chicago farmer’s markets.

Before becoming a farmer, I lived in Chicago. I worked at a small newspaper 50 hours a week, biked an hour each way to my job, and returned home each night exhausted.  In the winter, it was dark when I left my apartment and dark when I got back. I would come in after work, take off my snow-caked boots, coat and icy scarf that covered half my face, and order some take-out from a place nearby. Usually I would get something hot, filling, and cheap – warm noodles or soup that came in tall plastic containers. I had not yet fallen in love with food and cooking; I ate anything to fill me up because I was so hungry.

Meanwhile, I was reading about a new wave of farmers that piqued my interest. I started going to the Chicago Farmer’s Market for the first time in my early twenties, buying kale and eggplant, trying simple sautees.

Talking to the sun-kissed farmers selling the vegetables, I could see a certain pride and joy in their faces.  I thought about how it must be satisfying to do something like grow healthy food for people.

By contrast, my job was sucking me dry and I didn’t feel I was contributing to society. I decided to change my direction; I moved to Austin, Texas with my boyfriend (now husband) to start working at an environmental work program. I also started volunteering on farms, and after the program was over, started working full-time on one.

That was when I truly became hooked: it was as if the jigsaw puzzle inside me began clicking together into a masterful painting. During the day I worked on the farm, and at night I obsessively read: cookbooks like Full Moon Feast and Nourishing Traditions, Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, books about peak oil and organic farming methods.  I broke my on-again, off-again vegetarianism forever and helped with the butchering of the farm’s chickens and goats.  I felt ready to start my life as a farmer.

After working on farms with my husband, we decided to take the plunge, rent land and equipment through Prairie Crossing’s farmer incubator program in Illinois, and start Radical Root Farm.  Five years later, we were asked to rent a conservation farm with a long-term lease and farm in a more permanent setting.  Here, we’ve been able to start my long-awaited permaculture projects like our food forest; apple, pear and plum trees planted among other perennials. We grow 15 acres of organic vegetables, pastured chickens and pigs, a small, holistic apiary, plus a mountain of ideas just waiting to come to life in the seasons ahead.

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When I do go back to Chicago for markets or to visit friends, I miss the scents of ethnic restaurants cooking food, the loud clamor of conversation everywhere, the sound of the El train rattling on the tracks, bright lights, tall buildings, small, cozy apartments. I traded it for a drafty farmhouse, woods, stars against a dark sky, coyotes howling at night, and eating home-cooked meals with farm fresh food.

We go out less to shows and restaurants; we instead eat in and take walks to the creek or bike rides along the trails.  Farming life is a hard one, and there are many pluses and minuses. I still love cities and miss being in one, especially a bustling one like Chicago, but I am doing something I am proud of.

I’m happy to say that I am now one of those sun-kissed farmers, selling kale and eggplant, hoping someone is forfeiting the cheap take-out and experimenting in the kitchen.


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