Jessica Rinks is homesick for Forest Park. Not that the micro-farmer doesn’t still live in town. She’s just tired of traveling to Elgin during the growing season to plant, weed and harvest the land she leases for Purple Leaf Farms.
Rinks and her husband started their business in the summer of 2012 on a tiny plot of village-owned Altenheim land in the 7700 block of Madison Street. Rinks also helped bring the short lived but much-loved Farmers Market to the Altenheim Picnic Grove on Friday afternoons in the summer.
At the time, she got support from the village council to grow fresh tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, herbs and lettuces to sell only a few yards away, “as local as you can get,” she said.
But the following April, the council declined to renew her lease on the micro-farm when she asked for 100 more square feet to grow flowers for the Hines VA Farmers Market. As planting time approached, she jumped when Marcy and Chris Prchal from Trogg’s Hollow Farms offered her space they were leasing in Elgin. The Prchals are part of a farming group called CRAFT, the Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training. They set out to help other small-scale farmers get started.
Later in 2013 the village cancelled the farmers market too.
Rinks is still delivering her fresh produce to CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) customers in Forest Park and selling flowers at Hines. And she’s running the Oak Park Farmers Market. But she’s looking for a little plot, about an acre, where she can start harvesting again.
“I love Forest Park and its walkability because I don’t drive,” Rinks said. Her husband teaches at the University of Illinois Chicago.
“What I need is someone who will lease for a reasonable price, around an acre (40,000 square feet) of land that doesn’t have great value at the moment,” Rinks said. She pitched a price to a property owner on Chicago’s South Side, but he didn’t realize how little profit was being made in urban agriculture.
“It doesn’t make as much money as a parking lot or boat storage,” she said. The Cook County Forest Preserve District wasn’t interested, and Hines said if they did allow micro-farms, she’d be at the end of the list because veterans would take priority.
Rinks is fond of selling flowers at Hines, including different kinds of zinnias, sunflowers, anise hyssop and pink sage, calendula and dahlias. The Hines VA Farmers 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 last year.