From 2013 to 2015, Julie and I served as U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers in Paraguay. While working in the Environmental Conservation sector, I discovered a huge love of gardening and farming. Paraguayans have a deep connection to their land and are also some of the happiest people I have ever met.
One sweltering Paraguayan summer night, I stashed my 3G hotspot up in the rafters over my bed. It was the only internet signal I could get. Sweating in bed, I found an article about Singing Frogs Farm in California and how they were still thriving despite being in the peak of the drought in 2014. Most other big farms were at risk of crop failure, but Singing Frogs argued that removing tillage from the farm drastically improves a farm's resilience against drought and climate change. They believed that no-till farming dramatically improves soil health with the added benefits that it also sequesters atmospheric carbon in the soil, brings bees back to the landscape, and leads to bigger and more nutrient-dense vegetables. They were proving in real time that small farms could do pretty much everything better than large-scale farms.
In 2016, Julie and I interned on two West Coast farms. The first was the Kern Family Farm in the mountains near Yosemite. The second was Mountain Cloud Farm in Clark Fork, Idaho. We then moved to Shanghai to live near Julie's extended family and to work as teachers. Our goal was to save enough money teaching to buy land and start a farm somewhere in the states. We taught in Shanghai for four years before finally meeting that savings goal.
In 2018, I learned about Neversink Farm in upstate New York. Conor Crickmore had taken small-farm efficiency to a whole new level. I immediately signed up for the Neversink Farm online course and began studying every single detail of Conor's greenhouses and his efficient management systems.
In the summer of 2020, we just barely caught a flight out of China and moved to California. I worked at Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastopol while Julie attended grad school at Stanford. We almost settled down on the West Coast, but the tragic loss of my very close friend brought us back to Illinois. We were visiting properties in Oregon the day I got the phone call about his accident. I finally realized what should have been obvious all along: that my farm should be located close to my oldest friends and family in Illinois. The West Coast has all the epic landscapes I had been chasing for years, but they would never be as satisfying as seeing my friends and family on my farm on a regular basis. I'm grateful to Carl for showing me how precious and scarce our time together on this planet actually is.
In January of 2022, we found nine acres on Banford Road in Woodstock. We will farm two acres and restore the other seven acres to native forest and the original prairie Illinois is famous for.
Our farm is combining Singing Frogs methods with Neversink methods. I take inspiration from J.M. Fortier and Curtis Stone in Canada, as well as my Paraguayan friends in South America. In retrospect, Illinois was always meant to be our destination, at the geographic center of all my farm mentors from the North, South, East (Neversink), and West (Singing Frogs).
Our management practices significantly exceed national organic standards. Tillage-based agriculture such as conventional industrial farming (and even most organic farms), that optimize for a low "sticker price," rely on methods that create the need for chemical fertilizers. Repeated tillage not only prevents accumulation of organic matter but disrupts the entire subsurface ecosystem of microbes, insects, and worms. We farm with hand tools and prioritize soil health to mitigate pest problems, hence our slogan: hand grown in living soil. Even beautiful-looking organic produce may not be as nutrient-dense as vegetables can (and should) be. Grocery store vegetables come from big tillage-based farms — in soil that is barely alive. Our mission at Banford Road Farm is to maximize nutrient-density per acre, and that starts with the soil.
Banford Road Farm is currently under construction with a targeted first harvest of June 2022. We are a regenerative, no-till, human-powered farm. We are laser-focused on soil health and work to maintain ecological balance all across the property. Our nine acres consists of five acres of woods, two acres of vegetable and herb production, and two acres of silvopasture with grazing animals arriving next year. Data drives our land regeneration through the use of a Haney soil test that verifies that we are in fact increasing subsurface carbon and building organic matter over time.
What We Grow
Spring to Fall
Lettuce heads, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Bell Peppers, Beets, Carrots, Spinach, Arugula, Zucchini, Bok Choy, Salad turnips, Chives, Scallions, rosemary, basil, cilantro, parsley, thyme, lavender, dill
Spinach, Swiss Chard, Kale, Carrots, Arugula, Bok Choy, Beets, Radishes, Chives, Claytonia, Tatsoi