After the village of Forest Park gave Jessica Rinks a lukewarm reception to renewing her micro-farm lease at the Altenheim property on April 8, Rinks started looking for other options for her Purple Leaf Farm.
“I thought the village would [renew my proposal] but when they started showing resistance to the idea, I started talking to my farmer friends and saying, ‘I need to figure out other options for this year’s crops,” Rinks said.
At the village council meeting, Mayor Anthony Calderone worried Purple Leaf’s proposal would open the door to other entities who wanted to use public property for a private business. Rinks’ proposal had asked to increase her farmette’s space by 100 square feet and to sell flowers at neighboring markets, such as Hines VA Hospital.
While she got support at the meeting from Forest Park commissioners Chris Harris and Rory Hoskins, Commissioner Mark Hosty said he disagreed with allowing anyone to rent the property, which he wanted marketed and sold. Commissioner Tom Mannix said he didn’t like that the scope of the project had expanded outside of Forest Park.
That sent Rinks back to the drawing board, and she met with Village Administrator Tim Gillian to try to work out a way to keep her produce within the confines of Forest Park.
But it turned out fellow market vendors Marcy and Chris Prchal from Trogg’s Hollow Farms in Elgin, were looking for someone to take over about an acre they leased from Abiding Peace Church.
“They are giving me an offer I can’t refuse,” Rinks said.
That includes quadrupling her growing space and having access to a tractor and other equipment owned by the Prchals, in addition to collaborating on vegetable subscription sales and marketing produce.
“Tim [Gillian] was working hard to try to come up with options for me,” said Rinks. “I’m sad in several ways to have to walk away from the minifarm. But this is a really good situation and it would be silly to turn it down.”
Calderone was in meetings and not available to comment on Rinks’ decision Monday.
Harris said he wished Rinks well, but said the village lost an opportunity.
“I think the way her request was treated by the council last week was not only insulting to her but ultimately it’s a disservice to Forest Park, we lost a quirky little treasure,” Harris said in an email.
“For us, as a village, to have the opportunity to eat organic, hyper local, food — at no real expense or trouble to the village — was something we should have cherished, not chased away,” he added.
But Forest Park’s loss has helped Trogg’s Hollow, and given Rinks the determination she needs to really make a go of farming.
“This was perfect for us,” Marcy Prchal said. “We are now farming 11 acres in Poplar Grove, and we wanted to maintain a presence in Elgin.”
The Prchals are part of a farming group called CRAFT, the Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training.
Rinks calls them “farm incubators, who want to help newcomers get started.”
“We’re all supposed to work together, and be resources for each other.” said Prchal.
Rinks’ proposal said she was going to shift her focus to flowers, because she had success selling sunflowers and zinnias last year.
“Zinnias are one of my favorite flowers. I want to grow 10 different kinds,” Rinks said. “You can direct-seed them in the soil and they’re resistant to diseases and adverse conditions.”
She’s also branching out to the spikey blue flowers of anise hyssop and pink sage, calendula, oriental lilies and dahlias. With more room, she might even grow pumpkins, she said.
Rinks said she was especially excited about selling flowers at Hines VA farmers market, because the market serves loved ones and family members of the hospitalized veterans there.
“It made me feel good bringing flowers to the VA hospital. It was philanthropic thing,” Rinks said.
She’s not sure she’ll be able to keep doing that with her new farm 30 minutes away “on a good day, and it’s never a good day.”
“I’ll just have to see if Forest Park and Hines are still feasible for me,” Rinks said. “I need to go to the markets where I can sell my produce.”
Rinks and Marcy Prchals bonded instantly — both have husbands who like to wear homemade kilts.
“We have similar philosophies and practices in what we do that we’re happy to share with her,” said Prchal.
Trogg’s Hollow will still be at the Forest Park Farmers Market, which the Prchals love. They’ll expand to dropping off boxes for their community supported agriculture (CSA) subscription service on Fridays in Forest Park this year, Marcy said.
“The point is you want to sustain your community,” Prchal said about Rinks. “But she has to be able to sustain herself. We’re kind of here to help, to give her the opportunity to grow the way she wants to grow. If we can be a vehicle for that, that’s wonderful.”