Harold Wilken, together with his wife Sandy and son Ross, are the proprietors of Janie’s Farm Organics, based in Danforth, IL. The farm’s name honors Harold and Sandy Wilken’s daughter, Janie, who passed away in a car accident in 2001 at the age of 15.
On an August field tour after his selection as Illinois Conservation Stewardship Farmer of the Year Harold Wilken discussed methods used on Janie's Farm, operated in the Danforth area by him, his wife, Sandy, and son Ross. this week he received the Illinois Department of Agriculture's sustainable farming award.
History of Janie's Farm
Harold is a 5th generation family farmer who farmed conventionally for 23 years. In 2003, Harold was approached by Herman Brockman and asked if he would be willing to transition Herman’s family farm to organic production. Harold said he’d be willing to give it a try, and started with one 33-acre field. He quickly saw the benefits to the soil, and also noted that his input costs were much lower.
Janie's Farm Today
From that first 33-acre field, Janie’s Farm Organics has grown to include 2,025 acres of USDA Certified Organic grains, 90 acres in second-year transition, and 150 acres in first-year transition. Because more eyes and hands are needed on a diverse, organic operation, Harold has been able to hire more people.
Ross Wilken, Harold and Sandy’s son, grew up farming alongside his father. He began farming for himself when he was 15. After graduating from the University of Illinois in 2013, Ross returned to Janie’s Farm to work full-time. The father/son duo and several employees, including Harold’s nephew, work together closely to orchestrate the complex rotations and timely field work demanded by the more than 2,200 acres of Janie’s Farm Organics.
Janie’s Farm Organics produces 6 varieties of wheat, oats, rye, corn, 3 varieties of soybeans, black turtle beans, alfalfa, popcorn, seed corn, and more.
“Coming from a conventional background, I have found my home in being a diverse, organic farmer,” says Harold. “I am energized by participating in research and breeding new varieties of corn, beans, and small grains for direct human consumption.”
In addition to wheat and rye, some of the food grains Harold and his team grow are clear-hilum soybeans for tofu or soymilk, and ancient grains such as Emmer and Einkorn for flour. Harold is also growing Kernza, a perennial grain developed by The Land Institute.
“One of the things I’m proud of on my farm is that we’re feeding people,” says Harold. “My goal is that everything we raise feeds people.”
Harold and Ross are continually looking to the future. The Mill at Janie’s Farm is bridging the gap between commodity production and the local food movement. The mill sells flour and whole grains to local markets that are looking for a high quality product.