Henry’s Farm: A Diverse Sustainable Illinois Vegetable Farm Henry’s Farm: A Diverse Sustainable Illinois Vegetable Farm

Henry's Farm lower field during the annual fall customer picnic

Henry's Farm turnip symbolHenry’s Farm is a sustainable, multi-generational, small-scale, labor-intensive farming operation in Central Illinois. It is hidden deep in the rolling hills and fertile bottom land of the Mackinaw River Valley, where periodic flooding over thousands of years left deposits of nutrient-rich silt, creating black topsoil so deep we have never seen the bottom of it. 

This is not just a farm owned by a family, but worked by a family — three generations of the Brockman family — from Henry’s parents, to his wife Hiroko and their three children, to assorted brothers and sisters and cousins and nieces. In addition, we have wonderful farmhands and apprentices.

Our specialty is diversity, with over 650 varieties of vegetables in each year's seed order. Each variety is chosen on factors unrelated to the industrial values of looks, shelf-life, and pesticide resistance (as we don't use pesticides). Rather we choose what to grow based on taste and nutrient levels. Henry's farm is economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable. Socially, we create jobs for many people on the farm. We are environmentally sustainable because the farm mimics nature in its diversity. This means we do not have to use any pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, are are able to farm without polluting land, air, or water. By improving the environment, creating jobs, and having personal relationships with our customers we build community and are socially sustainable. And thanks to all of the people who purchase our produce, we have been economically sustainable, able to support our family and send all three kids to college with the farm income.

Map by Hiroko K. Brockman

Henry's Farm map by Hiroko Brockman

Each year, about half of Henry's 25 acres is used to grow vegetables, and half is fallow. Half of both the bottomland fields and the upper fields is allowed to rest and regenerate for two years, while the other half produces vegetables. The fallow land is planted in an alfalfa hay mixture, which is cut a few times a year and used for mulch and for the animals. 

More importantly, legumes in the hay mix put nitrogen back into the soil, and the fallow years allow the soil microbes and fungi to re-establish themselves, and create a healthy, living (and giving) soil. 

Every harvest day, wave after wave of freshly picked produce makes its way by the pick-up-load from the fields to the packing shed.  There, everything is washed, sorted, boxed, bagged, and loaded on the big truck for delivery to our local CSA members or to our Evanston Market customers.

What We Grow

Henry loves variety, and grows vegetables from all over the world including heirloom varieties.  An "heirloom vegetable” is generally described as a variety that has a long history of human use. Most of Henry’s heirlooms can be traced back over 100 years.  American heirlooms generally can be traced to crops grown by Native Americans or seeds that immigrants brought with them to the U.S. and then grew year after year in their backyards, collecting seeds each year to plant the next year. Heirloom varieties are often much tastier, and much less transportable, than commercial varieties. 

Over the past 50 years, there has been a huge shift in commercial varieties.  They are now selected purely for appearances, productivity, transportability and shelf-life.

If you want a tomato to taste like a tomato, you have to go back to the heirloom varieties, which are not uniform in size or shape or color, not very transportable, and not long-lasting on the shelf.  Instead you get flavor, flavor, flavor. 

If you’re interested in growing some heirloom vegetables, a good source is SeedSavers Exchange.

All photos © Peter Laundy

11 Fifty varieties of lettuce – that's amazing!

12 Gonzales single serving sized baby cabbage head

13 Chinese Chive Blossoms – spring stir-fry delicacy

14 German Red Garlic

15 Red Shiso – tear fresh over anything to transform the mundane to the sublime

16 Costata Romanesca heirloom zucchini and Zephyr summer squash with blossoms

07 Hopi Red Dye heirloom amaranth – a nutritional giant

18 Carmine Splendor red okra and Jambalaya green okra

19 Tongue of Fire Shelling Beans

10 Tomatoes – clockwise from top: Berkeley Tie Dye, Large Barred Boar, Green Zebra, Solar Flare

11 Red Bell Pepper

12 Purple de Milpa heirloom tomatillos

13 Winter Squashes – clockwise from top: Jester Acorn, Kabocha, Baby Blue Hubbard

14 Beauty Heart Radishes – the sweetest of radishes

A list of the 600+ Vegetables We Grow

Click on a vegetable type to see the cultivars we grew in 2012. We experiment with a few new cultivars every year, but the number of cultivars we grow holds steady. An "OG" after a name means organic seed: We buy it whenever possible.

Alliums

Garlic

German Extra-Hardy OG

German Red OG

New York White OG
Russian Red OG

Leeks

Bandit OG

Lincoln
King Sieg OG
King Richard OG
Pandora OG

Onions

Ailsa Craig

Bridger F1

Cabernet F1
Candy F1

Clear Dawn

Cortland F1 OG

Dakota Tears OG

Expression F1

Mt. Whitney F1

New York Early OG

Red Bull F1

Redwing F1 OG

Siskiyou Sweet Walla Walla OG
Ailsa Craig
Varsity F1
Redwing F1 OG
Mars
Walla Walla OG
Superstar
Sweet Spanish White
White Wing F1

Scallions

Nabechan

Parade OG

Shallots

Golden

Le Jardin

LY or Y

Picasso

Pikant

Red Sun

Pink Seed Blum

Yellow Moon

Amaranth

Hopi Red Dye OG

Red Stripe

Tender Leaf

White Leaf Amaranth

Arugula

Arugula OG
Surrey OG
Wild Arugula "Sylvetta" OG

Beans

Amethyst

Dragon Tongue OG

Fresh Pick OG

Gold Rush OG

Greencrop

Henderson Bush

Indy Gold OG

Jade OG

Jumbo OG

Maxibel OG

Provider OG

Purple Podded Pole OG

Red Noodle

Tavera OG

Dry/ Horticulture Beans

Agate Pinto OG

Black Turtle OG

Calypso OG

Jacob’s Cattle OG

Light Red Kidney OG

Taylor Dwarf Hort.

Vermont Cranberry

Soybeans

BeSweet 2001

BeSweet 2015

Butterbeans OG

Midori Giant

Sayamusume OG

Shirofumi OG

Tankuro OG

Beets

Early Wonder Tall Top OG
Red Ace F1 OG

Guardsmark Chioggia OG

Merlin F1 OG

Touchstone Gold OG
3 Root Grex OG

Broccoli

Green King F1

Green Magic F1

Packman F1
Tendergreen F1

Tipoff F1 OG

Windsor F1

Brussels Sprouts

Churchill F1

Diablo F1

Doric F1 OG

Gustus F1

Nautic F1 OG

Burdock

Takinogawa Long

Cabbages

Capture F1 OG

Caraflex F1 OG

Famosa F1 OG

Farao F1 OG

Gonzales F1

Integro F1 OG

KY Cross F1

Red Express OG

Super Red 80 F1

Cardoons

Gobbo di Nizzia

Porto Spineless

Carrots

Caracas
Nelson F1
White Satin OG
Over the Rainbow Mix
Purple Dragon
Napoli F1 OG
Yaya F1 OG
NegoviaF1 OG
Yaya F1 OG
Hercules F1

Laguna F1

Necoras F1

Nectar F1 OG

Yellowstone OG
Mokum F1

Cauliflowers

Bishop F1
Cheddar F1

Edith F1 OG

Fremont F1

Graffiti F1

Snow Crown F1

Celeriacs

Brilliant OG

Mars OG

Chards

Fordhook Giant OG

Gator Perpetual Spinach

Improved Rainbow Mix OG

Ruby Red Rhubarb OG

Umaina

Verde da Taglio OG

Chicories

Dandelion

Clio

Red Rib

Endive/Escarole

Dubuisson OG
Eros OG

Totem OG

Tres Fine Maraichere Olesh OG
Radicchio

Chioggia Red Preco No. 1

Fiero F1

Indigo F1

Pan di Zucchero

Chinese Artichokes (Crosnes)

Oca OG

Yacon OG

Chinese Cabbages

Bilko F1 OG

Kaboko F1 OG

Minuet F1

Rubicon F1

Chois

Black Summer F1

Happy Rich F1

Mei Qing Choi F1

Red Choi F1

Shiro F1

Suiho F1

Summer Fest F1

Tatsoi OG

Yu Choi Sum Hybrid

Yukina Savoy OG

Collards

Champion

Top Bunch F1

Cresses

Claytonia

Watercress OG

Wrinkled Crinkled

Crumpled Cress OG

Corns

Flour Corn (polenta, cornmeal)

Floriani Red Flint OG

Hopi Blue Flower

Painted Mountain OG

Roy Calais Flint

Popcorn

Butter- Flavored OG

Dakota Black OG

Pennsylvania Dutch

Red Beauty OG

Robust 1284H

Smoke Signals OG

Sweet Corn

Augusta

Cameo-Untreated

Fleet

Honey Select

Incredible RM

Lancelot

Luscious OG

Rose Potpouri OG

Ruby Queen\

Silver Queen

Spring Treat

Sugar Buns

Sugar Pearl OG

Sumptuous

Cucumbers

Poona Kheera OG
Marketmore 76 OG
General Lee OG
Lemon OG
Tasty Jade F1
Painted Serpent

Shintokiwa OG

Tyria OG F1

Eggplants

Barbarella F1

Black King F1

Dairyu F1

Falcon F1 OG

Galine F1

Irene

Machiaw F1

Nadia F1

Orient Express F1

Rosita OG

TraviataF1 OG

Flowers

Edible Flowers

Helen Mount

Jewel Mix OG

Kaleidoscope Mix OG

Sorbet Formula

Dry Flowers

Bicolor Rose

Las Vegas Purple

Mixed Colors

Monstrosum Mix

Qis Red

Sunset Mix

Tall Climbing Nasturtium

Herbs

Basil

Amethyst Improved OG

Aroma 2 OG

Christmas

Genovese OG

Mixed Specialty

Mrs. Burns Lemon

Sweet Thai OG

Cilantro

Caribe OG

Santo OG

Celery

Cutting Celery

Par-Cel

Dill

Fernleaf

Greensleeves OG

Hercules

Fennel

Orion F1 OG

ZefaFino

Parsley

Dark Green Italian OG

Krausa

Shiso

Green Shiso

Red Shiso

Other Herbs

Epazote OG
Papalo
Stevia

Kales

Beedy's Camden OG

Beira F1

Lacinato Rainbow OG

Nagoya Garnish Red F1

Red Russian OG

Redbor F1

Ripbor F1 OG

Toscano OG

Winterbor

Kikunas

Shungiku OG

Kohlrabis

Early Purple Vienna OG

Early White Vienna

Kolibri F1

Korist F1 OG

Korridor F1 OG

Winner F1

Lettuces

Antago OG

Australe

BarbadeiFrati

Boulder OG

Brown Golding OG

Cardinale OG

Coastal Star OG

Cocarde OG

Concept OG

Cracoviensis OG

Crispino OG

Dark Green Romaine OG

Dark LolloRossa OG

Double Density OG

Flashy Butter Gem OG

Flashy Green Butter Oak OG

Forellenschluss OG

Green Star OG

Hussarde OG

Jester OG

Kalura OG

Kiribati

Lettony OG

Merlot OG

Merlox Red Oak OG

Merlox Summer Crisp OG

New Red Fire OG

Olga OG

Optima OG

Oscarde OG

Outstanding OG

Panisse

Pirat OG

Plato II OG

Red Cash OG

Red EaredButterheart OG

Red Iceberg OG

Red Sails OG

Red Tide OG

Rouge d'Hiver OG

Skyphos

Speckled Amish OG

Sweet Valentine OG

Sylvesta OG

Tropicana OG

Ubriacona

Waldmann's Dark Green OG

Winter Density OG

Yugoslavian Red OG

Mache

Large-Leaf Round

Medallion

Melons

Muskmelons

Ambrosia F1

Goddess F1-untreated

Halona F1

Hannah’s Choice F1

Honey Pearl

Lil' Loupe F1

Orange Sherbert F1

Sarah's Choice F1

Savor F1

Sugar Cube F1

Tirreno F1 OG

White Honey

Watermelons

Au Golden Producer

Cathay Belle F1

Crimson Sweet OG

Gold Flower f1

Sangria

Dark Star

Little Baby Flower

Mickylee

New Orchid F1

Petite Yellow F1

Sorbet Swirl F1

Sunshine F1

Mustard Greens

Golden Frill OG

Green Wave OG

KekkyuTakana

Mizuna OG

Nozawana

Pink Lettucy Mustard

Gene Pool OG

Red Giant OG

Ruby Streaks OG

Topper F1

Toraziroh OG

Okra

Millionaire F1

Oriental Gourds

Bitter Melon

Comet

Momordicacharantia

Palee

Parsley Root

Arat

Parsnips

Andover OG

Lancer

Javelin F

Peas

Coral OG

Laxton's Progress #9

Mayfair OG

Green Arrow OG

Snow Peas

Dwarf Grey Sugar

Mammoth Melting OG

Oregon Giant OG

Oregon Sugar Pod II

Sugarsnap Peas

Cascadia OG

Sugar Ann OG

Sugarsnap OG

Sugar Daddy

Cowpeas

Big Red Ripper

Carwile's Virginia

Pinkeye Purple Hull

Queen Ann Blackeye

Schronce's Deep Black

Tennessee Red Valencia

Virginia Jumbo

Peppers

Colored Peppers

Bianca F1

Catriona F1 OG

Chocolate OG

Flavorburst F1

Golden Cal Wonder OG

Gourmet F1

Islander F1

Jumbo Sweet F1

Lido Lamuyo F1 OG

Lipstick OG

Purple Beauty OG

Ethnic Sweets

Amish Pimiento OG

Antohi Romanian OG

Belcanto F1 OG

Carmen F1 OG

Feherozon OG

Fushimi

Mellow Star F1

OranosF1 OG

Padron

Piemonte Pepperoncini OG

Pimenton de Espellette

Tangerine Pimiento OG

Xanthi F1 OG

Hot Peppers

Aji Colorado OG

Aji Cristal

Conchos F1

Corcel F1

Czech Black OG

El Jefe F1

Hidalgo OG

Highlander F1 OG

Holy Mole F1

Hot Portugal OG

Jalafuego F1

Magnum OG

New Mexico Joe E Parker OG

Red Rocket OG

Red Rocoto

Ring of Fire OG

Sahuoro

Tiburon F1

Triunfo F1 OG

Sweet Peppers

Bell Boy F1

New Ace F1

Olympus F1 OG

Orion F1 OG

Red Knight X3R F1

Revolution F1

Potatoes

Adirondack Blue OG

Adirondack Red OG

All-Blue OG

Austrian Crescent OG

Bintje OG

Canela OG

Carola OG

Colorado Rose OG

Dark Red Norland OG

Desiree OG

Elba OG

French Fingerling OG

German Butterball OG

Irish Cobbler

Kennebec OG

Mountain Rose OG

Purple Peruvian

Red Maria OG

Red Thumb OG

Rio Grande Russet OG

Yukon Gold OG

Pumpkins

Baby Pam

Long Pie OG

New England OG

Winter Luxury O

Radishes

French Breakfast OG

Crunchy Royale F1

Sora

Ping Pong F1

Pink Beauty OG

Purple Plum OG

Zlata

Winter Radish/Daikon

Green Meat

Nero Tondo

Summer Cross #3 F1

Discovery F1

Watermelon

Rapini (Broccoli raab)

Quarantina

Spring Raab

Rutabagas

Helenor F1 OG

Salsify

Chicory da Radice di Soncin

Island

Mammoth Sandwich

Saltwort

Saltwort

Sorrel

Sorrel OG

Spinachs

Corvair F1 OG

Palco F1 OG

Pigeon F1 OG

Regiment F1 OG

Renegade F1 OG

Tyee F1 OG

Summer Spinaches

New Zealand Spinach

Red Malabar Spinach

Squashes

Summer Squash

Benning's Green Tint OG

Bush Baby F1

Costata Romanesca OG

Eight Ball F1

Gentry F1

Gold Rush F1

Goldy F1 OG

G-Star F1 OG

Magda F1

Midnight Lightning OG

Mulitipik

Raven F1

Dunja F1 OG

Sebring

Success

Teot Bat Put F2

Yellow Crookneck OG

Yellow Scallopini F1 OG

Y-Star F1 OG

Zephyr F1

Winter Squash

Black Forest OG

Cha-Cha F1

Confection F1

Crown Pumpkin

Delicata JS OG

Eastern Rise F1

Honey Boat OG

Honey Nut OG

JWS 6853 PMR F1

Kurinishiki F2

Marina di Chioggia

Metro PMR F1

Nutterbutter OG

Paydon OG

Pinnacle F1

Ponca Baby OG

Small Wonder F1

Squisito OG

Sugar Dumpling OG F1

Sunshine F1

Sweet Dumpling OG

Sweet REBA Bush OG

Tiptop PMR F1

Tivoli F1

Tuffy OG

UchikiKuri OG

Waltham Butternut OG

ZepellinDelicata OG

Sunchokes

Clearwater OG

Fuseau OG

Nodokha OG

Red Fuseau OG

Sooke OG

Stampede OG

Volga 2 OG

Sweet Potatoes

Beauregard

Georgia Jet

Porto Rican

Red Japanese

Tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes

Black Cherry OG

Chadwick Cherry OG

Golden Sweet F1

Green Doctors Frosted OG

Indigo Rose OG

Peacevine OG

Red Pearl OG

Sakura F1 OG

Snowberry

Sun Gold F1

Tomoatoberry Garden F1

Toronjino F1 OG

White Cherry OG

Heirlooms

Aunt Ruby's German Green OG

Beefmaster F1

Beryl Beauty

Black Prince OG

Brandywine OG

Burgess Stuffing

Cherokee Purple OG

Chocolate Champion

Costoluto Genovese

CostolutoFiorentino

Emerald Green

German Johnson OG

Goldie OG

Green Zebra OG

Hungarian Heart

Jade Beauty

Japanese Black Trifele OG

Jubilee OG

Kosovo

Martha Washington F1 OG

Marvel Striped OG

Momotaro F1

Moon Glow OG

Mr. Snow

Nyagous OG

Orange Oxheart

Pineapple OG

Ponderosa Red OG

Prudens Purple OG

Purple Calabash

Red Brandywine OG

Red Pear Piriform OG

Red Zebra

Rose de Berne OG

Rosso Sicilian OG

Schimmeig Striped Hollow OG

Striped German OG

Stupice OG

Summertime Green

Tansmanian Chocolate

Topaz or Huan U

Trophy OG

Violet Jasper orTzi Bi U

Wapsipinicon Peach OG

Yellow Brandywine OG

Heirloom Romas

Black Icicle

Black Plum OG

Debarao OG

Mr. Fumo OG

Opalka OG

Orange Icicle

Pink Icicle

Speckled Roman OG

Yellow Icicle

Hybrid Red/Yellow

American Original F1

Better Boy F1

BHN-1021 F1

Big Beef F1

Bobcat F1

Celebrity F1

Dafael F1

Defiant PhR F1 OG

Emperador F1

Golden American Original

Jet Star F1

New Girl F1

Tangerine American Original

Valley Girl F1

Hybrid Romas

Granadero F1 OG

Monica OG

Tomatillos

Toma Verde OG

Verde Puebla OG

Turnips

Hidabeni

Purple Top White Globe OG

White Lady F1

Golden Globe OG

Wild Edible Plants

Lamb’s Quarters

Wild Amaranth

Purslane

Henry's Farm CSA: Make Our Farm Your Backyard Garden

Henry's Farm vegetables on conveyer

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a direct relationship between you and a farmer. Early in the year, you pay for a season's subscription, just as you would pay for a year of Time Magazine.  With that money, Henry is able to purchase seeds and supplies. Then, each week for 26 weeks, from late May until just before Thanksgiving, you get 7 to 9 different vegetables, picked the same day they are delivered to you.  We have 6 pickup locations in central Illinois -- two in Peoria, and one each in Morton, Eureka, Bloomington, and at the farm.  CSA members share in each season's risks and rewards, and we have consistently delivered greater value than the $16/week price.  Detailed information is below. 

What You Get

Fresh-picked seasonal vegetables for 26 weeks, starting the last Tuesday in May and ending the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The selection of produce varies from week to week (see typical shares below), but your box will always be full to the brim with 7-9 types of vegetables at the peak of their flavor.

Best taste and highest nutritional value. We grow only the best-tasting varieties and food scientists have shown that Taste = Nutrition!

No GMOs, Pesticides, Herbicides, or Synthetic Fertilizers

Convenient Weekly Pick-ups of vegetables picked that very day. The produce we hand-picked at 7 in the morning is in your hands that evening, after traveling 20 miles or less to reach your table. Pick-up locations are in Bloomington, Eureka, Morton, Peoria, and on Henry's Farm in Congerville. See location details below.

CSA Pick-up Locations and Times

You pick up your CSA shares each Tuesday, from the last Tuesday in May through the third Tuesday in November at these central Illinois locations:

Bloomington/Normal: Pick-ups are between 6:00 and 7:00pm at the Unitarian Church parking lot at 1613 East Emerson Street in Bloomington. Starting the first Tuesday in October they move indoors to the Vitesse Cycle Shop at 206 South Linden, Normal and run from 6:30 to 7:30pm.

Eureka: Pick-ups are between 5 and 5:30pm at 102 Glen Drive

Morton: Pick-ups are between 6:30 and 7pm at 148 North Missouri

• Peoria:
At 240 Northeast Randolph Ave. between 4:30 and 5:30pm
At 2020 West Clarke Avenue in West Peoria between 5:00 and 6:00pm  

• Congerville (on-farm): Pick-ups are after 3pm at 432 Grimm Rd.

How to Join Henry's CSA

The 2015 CSA is now full for all locations except the 2020 West Clarke Avenue location in Peoria.

But please click on the button below and fill out the form to get on the waiting list.

Sometimes people need to cancel their membership at the beginning of the season and we can let you in at the last minute. If that doesn't happen, you will be first in line for the 2016 CSA!

Waiting list form

Typical CSA Shares

Spring

Lettuce (Favorites like Oak Leaf and Romaine, as well as heirloom varieties) — Radish — Spinach — Green Onions — Broccoli — Chives— New Potatoes — Rhubarb
 

Summer

Tomatoes (Beefsteak varieties, as well as heirloom varieties, plum, and cherry tomatoes) — Cucumber —Zucchini — Green Beans — Carrots — Corn — Kale — Basil
 

Fall

Winter Squash (from Acorn and Butternut squash to the gourmet Delicata and the Japanese Kabocha) — Green Peppers — Sweet Potatoes — Fennel — Parsnips — Beet —Bok Choy — Muskmelon

Prospective Member FAQs

Click on any question to see Henry's answers to questions he's been asked over the years by prospective CSA members.

1
How do I contact you?

Once the growing season begins in earnest, my life is a whirlwind of activity with little space for returning phone calls. I do try to check my email once a week, so please . If you need an immediate response, call my cell phone: I give out my number to CSA members.

2
Why do I have to pay for the whole season up front? Why can’t I just pay week by week throughout the season?

The reason that I have members pay up front is that I need to know in the spring how many people I will be feeding in the summer and fall months. When I plant the first broccoli and pepper seeds in the greenhouse in early March, I need to know how many broccoli and pepper plants I need to grow this year and the only way I can know that is to know how many members I have. The other reason I like payment up front and in full is that it shows that you have made a hard and fast commitment to me and the CSA. My commitment to you begins when the first seeds go in the ground in early spring. If members could pay as they go, some members would drop out as the season progressed just due to the law of entropy. Members would drop out in late August, for example, as life becomes hectic when the kids go back to school. Unfortunately, I would have already invested months of time and work and money to grow that member’s food for September and October. Finally, if I had to spend time keeping track of who paid what and when, I would never have time to actually raise the vegetables.

3
How much produce is in a share?

This is a difficult question to answer. Weight is not really a good measure because in the spring when you are getting lettuce, spinach and other light things a whole bag full of produce might not weigh more than a couple pounds whereas in the late summer when you are getting heavy things like melons, sweet corn and tomatoes you might lug home as much as 10 pounds of produce. Volume is not really a good measure either, but generally you’ll be able to fit a weekly share easily into two plastic grocery bags and most weeks it will fit in one if you work at it.

The way I measure a weekly share is by value. When I decide what to give you each week, I make sure it comes to around $15.50 worth of produce because that is what I am charging you for it. In reality, however, you almost always get more than $15.50 worth, because I think that you should get a better deal through the CSA than you would at a farmers market. Most years, the CSA weekly share has averaged at around $17 in value compared to my market prices. And if you were to buy the same amount of all the vegetables in your share at the local Jewel or Kroger (conventional, not organic), you’d be spending twice that amount – see FAQ #5 below.

The best way to measure a share is to say how many people it can feed. Unfortunately, this too is a very difficult question to answer because people’s dietary and cooking habits are so varied. However, most CSA members find that a share is adequate to feed a family of four “omnivores” or a family of two vegetarians. That said, I have had a family of two consume a double share and I have had two families of four members each share a single share. It really comes down to two factors: how often (how many meals) you cook at home as opposed to eating out or eating prepared dishes and how many vegetables you include in your diet.

4
I don’t think I can use a full share. Do you have half shares?

No, I only offer full shares. If you don’t think you can use a whole share, I would encourage you to join up with a friend, family member or neighbor to share with. I have many members who do this. Some of them divide up each week’s produce while others alternate who picks up every other week. Sharing is also a good idea if you think you might miss a lot of pick-up days because of travel, work or kids’ activities, because your share partner can pick up for you when you cannot.

5
How does the price of your produce compare to produce prices in the grocery store?

Several times over the past two years, I have gone to the Jewel grocery store in Normal with a list of the produce that CSA members received from me that week and priced out how much it would have cost to buy the same items there. My $15.50 full share has consistently priced out at a $15.50 to $32 value. And remember, that is how much it would cost you to buy the factory-farmed, chemically-grown equivalents of my organic produce. So, in other words, produce that was raised with chemicals, picked days if not weeks ago and shipped across the country—produce with little nutritional value and less flavor--costs more than organic produce bursting with flavor and nutrition that was raised locally with love and care and picked that morning. Go figure.

6
What happens to produce left over on the Exchange Table or left over from members who didn’t come to pick up that week
?

It depends on how much is left. If there is just a small amount left on the Exchange Table, I divide it up amongst my extended family and we eat it or put it up for the winter. If there is more left over than we can possibly use, I feed it to the chickens or put it on the compost pile. No organic matter ever goes to waste on this farm. Either somebody eats it or it is recycled back into the soil.

7
Why can’t I choose which vegetables I get each week? How do you choose what to pick each week?

First of all, the amount of time and record-keeping it would take in order to allow the members to choose the vegetables in their share each week is mind-boggling. Each week I would have to make up a list of available produce. You would have to call in your order each week. If I didn’t have enough of something to give it to everyone who ordered it, I would have to figure out some fair way to make substitutions. Furthermore, I‘d have to run all over the field picking a little of this and a little of that and harvesting would take forever. Then I‘d have to pack each member‘s share up separately. I‘m starting to pull my hair out just thinking about it (in my dreams I still have hair).

The other part of the answer is that the ability to choose which vegetables to pick gives me great control over the quality of the produce you get and the health of my farm. Each week I look over my fields and chose which 8 or 9 vegetables are at their absolute best that week. If the green beans are ready to pick this Tuesday, by next Tuesday they will so stringy and overmature that they won’t be worth picking at all. The spinach that is sweet and succulent on June 1 will be bitter and tough on June 8.

The ability to select which vegetables to harvest each week also helps me manage all sorts of problems in the field. For example, say it’s mid-June and the weather forecast is calling for a week of dry, 90- degree weather. What I’ll do is harvest out the last of my lettuce, radish and other cool weather crops that week before the hot, dry weather cuts their eating quality in half. In the fall, you’ll know when the first killing frost is in the forecast because you’ll get lots of peppers, eggplants and other tender vegetables that I’ve rescued from the cold.

As an organic farmer, timely harvesting is one of my most important tools for controlling insects, weeds and disease. If the weeds in a carrot bed are starting to flower, for example, I’ll clean out that bed as fast as possible so I can till down those weeds before they start dropping seeds onto the soil. The best method of controlling weeds is to keep weed seeds out of the soil to start with. If I start seeing swarms of cabbage butterflies fluttering around my cabbage patch, I’ll start harvesting the cabbages even if they aren’t full-size because I know that it won’t be long before voracious green cabbage worms will be feasting on them.

In general, when I get to choose, I can run my farm much more efficiently, with much less waste and far fewer pest and weed problems. And you get to eat produce that is always at its absolute best--even if you aren‘t able to choose what you get.

And I am conscientious about putting together a nice eclectic selection each week. I make sure you’ll get a mix of salad crops, root crops, cooking greens, herbs as well as the "fruit" vegetables like peppers, tomatoes, cukes and squash. And I can absolutely guarantee that no two weeks will ever be alike. I just looked back over last year’s list and the greatest number of vegetables that I ever gave twice in a row was four (lettuce, spinach, green onions and radish), and that was early in the season when there isn’t a lot to choose from yet.

8
What if there are vegetables that I just don’t like or am allergic to? I.e., how does the Exchange Table work?

Although I choose the 7 to 9 vegetables that make up your share, I try to give you some say in the matter by having the Exchange Table. The Exchange Table is the place where you can exchange the vegetables that you just can’t eat for something that you can.

The way it works is that I prime the table with extras of some of the vegetables I brought that week or sometimes I bring in something completely different for the Exchange Table. First, go down the line picking up your share, taking one of everything available that week even if it includes something that you have absolutely no intention of taking home and eating. When you get to the end of the line, put anything that you don’t want on the Exchange Table and take what you want instead from what is there.

Don’t be shy about using the Exchange Table. Chances are that somebody else loves precisely what you loathe. This fact was driven home just this spring when one day a member requested that I grow fewer beets this year. The very next day I ran into another member who said, "I sure hope you’re raising more beets this year."

Also make sure you pick up every item in your share and don’t skip over those things you don’t want. No beet-lovers will be able to grab up your beets unless you have carried them down to the Exchange Table. If everybody uses the Exchange Table properly, no one should ever have to eat something that they don’t like.

Often I will also give you choices right on the tables. For example, the sign on a box might read, “Take one cilantro or one dill bunch” or “Take two sweet peppers or two hot peppers” and I will have some of each for you to choose from. Sometimes, usually in late summer or early fall, I will bring in a whole range of vegetables to choose from. I’ll put up a big sign that says, “Choose Any 7 Vegetables!” and it will be up to you to make up your own share for that week.

Of course, in all honestly, I have never met a vegetable that I didn’t like. Show me a vegetable you don’t like and I believe that between me, Hiroko, my sisters, my mother and mother-in-law, we can fix it a way that you will like. And you will find some of those recipes in each week’s flyer. It is always a good idea to re-try those things that you “know” you don’t like. You may not like broccoli because your first experience was with those pale-green, rubbery stalks of overcooked broccoli served in the school cafeteria. Try the real thing--you may be delighted to find out what you have been missing.

9
What if I get vegetables, like tomatillos or daikon radish, that I have no idea how to cook or eat?

Almost every new CSA members is introduced to some vegetables that are completely unfamiliar. To help out, my sister Terra publishes a e-flyer each week that lists what vegetables you’ll get that week and gives simple-to-make and delicious-to-eat recipes for them, particularly vegetables that aren’t traditional central Illinois fare. We try to get it out to you early enough to give you a little heads-up on what you’ll find at the pick-up. My goal is to get the flyer out on Monday evening, but Tuesday morning is probably a more realistic prospect.

Furthermore, all new members receive the recipe booklet that Terra put together. It covers (almost) every vegetable I grow from arugula to zucchini and features all the favorites from past flyers. There is also lots of information about putting up extra produce for the winter.

10
What should I do if I’m going to be out of town and can’t pick up my vegetables for a week or two?

The best thing to do is arrange for someone, friend or family member, to pick up your vegetables while you are away. Just tell them to give me your name when they come to pick up your vegetables. They’ll appreciate the fresh produce and I won’t have to carry your share of vegetables back home. 

11
What if something comes up and I can’t pick up my vegetables or I just forget one week?

I realize that things do come up and people do forget. (Heaven knows I do.) If for some reason you missed the pick-up, you can call us to arrange to come out to the farm the next day and pick up your share. Please call before 10 a.m. Wednesday. If we don’t hear from you by then, I’ll assume you aren’t going to pick up. 

Members who pick up in Bloomington/Normal have another option. They may be able to pick up a double share at the subsequent regular Tuesday pick up. Since at least one out of the 150 members misses the pick up essentially every week, I almost always go home with some produce. If you come during the last 15 minutes of the pick up period and if there is enough produce leftover, you can pick up an extra share to make up for the previous week you missed.

12
If I notify you well beforehand, can I get a refund for those weeks that I will be out of town during the season?

I cannot refund members for missed weeks. The reason is that even if I know that I don’t have to pick for you, I cannot tell the vegetables not to grow that week. The vegetables will be there that week whether you are in town or not and I cannot afford to not be paid for them. I cannot afford not to be recompensed for the hours and hours of labor and love that have already gone into growing them. The fact that everything I grow for the CSA is paid for up front and in full is one of the major reasons why I can provide fresh, organic vegetables to CSA members at or below what you would pay for chemically-raised produce in local stores. Nothing goes to waste and every minute of work in the field is paid for.

13
Can members visit the farm?

Every year we have a fall potluck/farm tour to which all CSA member families are invited. The fall potluck is tentatively planned for the first Saturday in October. Members are also invited to visit the farm at anytime throughout the season. The best days for visits are Monday through Wednesday; don’t come out on Tuesday unless you plan to help us pick the produce for your share that week. Arrange with me by email or cell phone to come out. Kids of any age are welcome. I encourage you to come see where and how your food is grown.

14
What do you mean when you say you farm organically?

My farm and therefore everything I grow on it is 100% USDA certified organic. What that means is that I follow all of the USDA standards for organic production and that I undergo an inspection every year to certify that I am indeed following the rules.

So what are the standards? At their most basic, they state that an organic farmer must not use or have used for the previous three years any synthetic chemicals of any kind on one’s farm. That means no man-made insecticides, herbicides or fungicides. A certified organic farmer can kill no organisms with manmade chemicals whether viruses, bacteria, weeds or insects; even rat poison is banned. To be certified organic, one must use no synthetic fertilizers, no hormones, no sewage sludge and no genetically modified organisms of any kind.

I have been growing vegetables since I helped in my parents’ gardens as a young child, and I have been farming for the past 20 years. So, I didn’t convert to organic farming. It is all I have ever known. I learned it from my parents and put that knowledge to work when I started out in my first year farming in 1993. In all those years, I have never raised food in any way that couldn’t be certified organic under the USDA rules.

But for me, a true definition of organic goes beyond a list of rules, a list of do’s and don’ts.

Organic farming is a philosophy and a way of life. Since organic food has become big business over the past decade or so, many farms, particularly corporate farms, are going organic for purely economic reasons. To them, the organic standards are simply a series of hoops to jump through in order to get their fingers on a piece of the organic pie—and organic premium prices.

To me, farming organically means farming in a way that is harmonious with Nature. It means realizing that Nature is the true expert farmer. An ecosystem is a master farmer, producing abundant food for all the living beings within it. Nature produces food for each organism without harming the environment for other organisms. My goal as an organic farmer is to learn enough about Nature and through Nature to be able to produce food for humans without despoiling and destroying the environment for all other living things. I still have a lot to learn.

Farmers should be able to raise food without polluting the air and water, without degrading the health and fertility of the soil, without destroying biodiversity and without leaving our children a less healthy planet. This statement is self-evident and no farmer, no consumer would argue over its validity. In practice, however, it is a radical notion, for most of our agriculture today does, in fact, pollute the air and water, degrade the soil, destroy biodiversity and leave the planet a less hospitable place for future generations. I see it my duty as a farmer to fight this trend.

In short, I’d rather have you rather than the USDA decide whether I am “organic” (or natural or sustainable) enough for you. You are welcome to come to my farm anytime. You can do your own inspection and conduct your own certification process.

So that is the short answer. To give a complete answer to what farming organically really means, I would have to write a book.

Wait a minute. Come to think of it, I already have. My booklet “Organic Matters” gives a fuller answer to the question of what organic farming is. You can read selections from it here or order the complete essay by emailing my sister Terra. And speaking of Terra, she has written her own book about organic farming on Henry’s Farm. It is called “The Seasons of Henry’s Farm” and can also be ordered by emailing her.

15
Will our vegetables be full of bugs because you farm without chemicals?

Full of bugs? No. Will you ever find an insect on your produce? Yes. You might find a corn earworm on the tip of your sweet corn one week for instance, or a cabbage worm in your broccoli now and again. But it will be rare. My philosophy is live and let live. I know some people are so squeamish that if they see a bug on a vegetable, they’ll throw the whole thing out rather than eat it, but I think that is silly and wasteful. Look at it this way. Say you have an earworm on your corn. Earworms come in at the tip of the ear and they eat the silks and the kernels at the very end of the ear. Now all you have to do take a knife, flick out the worm and cut off the tip of the ear. Voila! You have a perfectly good ear of corn.

The other alternative is to spray the corn with a toxin that will kill all the earworms in the field (and other life as well). As someone once said to me, "Would you rather have a worm that you can see or a poisonous chemical that you can’t?" Besides earworms and cabbage worms, few insects are dumb enough or slow enough to stick around after a vegetable is picked. Sometimes you will see the telltale signs of where insects have eaten a little of your produce before you got to it. Often the greens will have little holes in the leaves where flea beetles were munching or the beans will have some gnaw marks from bean beetles, but I see nothing wrong with sharing a little of our food with our insect brethren. Sometimes insects can feed so heavily on a crop that it’s no longer worth it to harvest or try to eat, but if the damage is only cosmetic I will go ahead and harvest and sell a crop with a little insect damage. I certainly won’t go out with insecticides (even organic insecticides) just to ensure the cosmetic beauty of a crop.

Remember, just two generations ago, before the rise of chemical farming, everybody dealt with insects and their handiwork everyday--and were healthier for it.

16
Do you ever supplement your produce by buying certified organic produce on the wholesale market and reselling it?.

Absolutely not. First of all, most produce on the wholesale market doesn’t meet my standards for quality, taste or sustainability. More importantly, however, I would never sell you produce about which I know nothing. I am not a merchant; I am a farmer.

That said, for the past several years, I have asked two neighboring certified organic farmers (Larry and Marilyn Wettstein and Dennis and Emily Wettstein) to grow sweet corn and green beans for the CSA to supplement my own supply. Sweet corn takes up a lot of field space and I just don’t have enough room to grow enough to satisfy the demand and beans take so much time to pick that I can rarely get enough to give to all members. I have known both of the Wettstein families for years and trust them as much as I trust myself. Both farms are certified organic and have been so longer than my farm.

Our Farm's Deep History

Geology isn't quite destiny, but it's close. Farming Henry’s way on Henry’s land has been made easier by its geological history. 

Many thanks to Dr. Kris Huysken, Department of Geosciences, Indiana University Northwest for providing information used in this short synopsis.

Available water

Pangea animation showing continents drifting away from each other  

Deep wells provide the water for all of the people and animals on Henry’s Farm. They also provide water for transplants, and during the rare times when irrigation is necessary to germinate seeds or keep plants going through droughts. 

These deep wells are made possible by the aquifer under Illinois formed 570 to 250 million years ago when Illinois was covered by shallow seas (and located near the equator!). The sediments deposited in these seas later turned into the alternating shallow sedimentary strata of limestone, shale and sandstone. Sandstone provides excellent water quality: Small pores between grains of sand allow water to slowly move through the rock while filtering out impurities. 

Poor suitability for industrial farming

Flat land is much easier to farm using industrial methods than hilly land. And Henry’s Farm is hilly, thanks to glaciers that, from 1,500,000 to 10,000 years ago created ridges and plains as they repeatedly advanced to the south, paused creating a ridge at its edge, and retreated. In the map of Illinois to the left the green area shows alternating bands of ridges (darker) and plains (lighter) left from glacial activity during the Wisconsin Episode. Henry's Farm on one of the ridges.

Illinois geology map showing Wisconsin Period glaciers 

Rich, deep soil

Mackinaw River Valley Map

The soil on Henry's Farm is extremely fertile: a key factor in the taste and level of nutrition of the vegetables he grows and brings to market. When Henry began farming here, he was blessed with rich deep soil because the farm is along Walnut Creek in the Mackinaw River Valley, where periodic flooding has deposited nutrient-rich silt creating richer and richer soil for 10,000 years. The millennia of soil deposits have created topsoil so deep that Henry's never reached the bottom of it, even when digging down five feet to loosen the burdock roots. Henry works hard to replace nutrients removed from the soil in the form of vegetables taken to market. He continually enhances the fertility of the soil by growing cover crops, rotating crops, returning all plant organic matter to the soil, and leaving fields fallow.

Henry's Farm Apprenticeships

Please read the following before applying for an apprenticeship

This is a small and very diverse farm. At larger farms or farms that specialize in fewer products, apprentices often get stuck doing pretty much the same thing day in and day out. Not here. You will never be stuck hoeing carrots for eight hours or picking tomatoes every day for a week. Every day is different. Another advantage at this farm is that the apprentice is my right hand. Assorted members of my three-generational family help out on harvest days and other major jobs, but day in and day out it is just me and the apprentices trying to keep up with ten acres of vegetables. Interns will take part in every aspect of small-scale, sustainable vegetable production, including raising transplants, planting, weeding, mulching, trellising, harvesting and marketing. Interns will leave the farm with a good grasp of the skills and knowledge needed to start their own farms.

Henry instructing apprentices at harvest

The Work

The basic categories of work are planting and transplanting, weeding, mulching, harvesting and selling. Almost all of the work is done by hand or with hand tools. I have one small tractor for tilling, making beds and some cultivation. 

A day on the farm is long, hot and hard--full of sweat, pain and bugs. I love it. But most people don't. I once had someone quit after three hours and never come back.  I have also had apprentices who decided to stay on for another year. One former apprentice stayed on as my farmhand and has been here for over 12 years now.

A season on the farm should feel like time spent in a foreign country. It should feel like a completely new environment. You will make the shift from a consumer of food to a producer of food. There is so much to learn, to observe, to absorb. There are the details, a rainshower of details--how to wield a hoe, how big to make a bunch of carrots, how far apart to thin the lettuce, how thick to lay the mulch, which is the tatsoi and which is the mei qing choi.  The details, while overwhelming in sheer number, are relatively easy to learn and easy to teach.

Then there is the overall picture. The overall picture is harder to grasp and perhaps impossible to teach. Understanding the overall picture means having a feel for the weather, the seasons, the soil, the landscape. It means having a feel for the way nature works. Actually, I don't know what understanding the overall picture means. It is impossible to explain. The only way I know to learn about it is to become part of it. When you wake up with birds singing in the predawn and go to bed when it gets dark; when you are exposed day-long to the elements; when you are wet when it rains, oily with sweat when it is hot, shivering when it is cold; when your hands are stained with soil; when you eat what you grow--when you feel the days get longer and longer and then shorter and shorter--then you start to get a feel for the overall picture.

Our Relationship

My idea of the ideal relationship between an apprentice and farmer is one where the apprentice asks the farmer as many questions as they have. Why do you do it this way? What happens if you do it this way instead? What happens next? 

Just as important as asking questions, however, is watching the farmer closely and trying to learn as much as possible just from observing him. You will be doing new and different tasks almost every day for the entire time you are here. I, on the other hand, will be doing tasks that I have done so many times that they are (sometimes) second nature to me. If the way I do something doesn't make sense to you, ask me about it. Chances are that I have a reason for doing it that way (although sometimes it is hard for me to remember what the reason was). 

The other thing that you as an apprentice should be trying to learn is whether the farming life is for you. I can't help you there except by giving you the total immersion experience. By the time you leave here, you will have become an integral part of this farm.

The Hours

• Monday through Thursday, the apprentice's day runs from 6 in the morning until 6 in the evening, with a 2-hour break for lunch and rest during the hottest part of the day.

• Friday is the big harvest day and we start at daybreak and stop when everything is picked, with only a short break for lunch.

• Saturday is market day. We leave for market at around 1 in the morning and get back home around 5:30 p.m.

• Saturday and Sunday are your days off, unless you helped out at the market on Saturday, in which case you get Sunday and Monday off. 

Compensation

Apprentices are provided with free lodging in a 14 x 60 foot mobile home located on the farm. The home has a full kitchen, bathroom, living room and three bedrooms. You will share the home with the other apprentices.

The apprenticeship is meant to be a learning and training experience, not a job. As such, you won't be paid wages. You will receive a stipend of $200 per week, which should cover your living expenses while you are here. Housing is free (you won’t pay for rent, utilities, repairs, etc.) and your food bill should be next to nothing as you’ll get all the vegetables you can eat as well as any fruit, meat, grains and eggs that we grow for our own use. 

Farm Rules

1
No smoking or drinking during work hours or break times.

2
No smoking in the house.

3
Lateness to work is not tolerated. (Every minute counts.)

4
You are expected to work as hard and fast as you can all the time. Everybody on the farm (from our youngest apprentice to our 80-year-old parents to the family dog) works as hard as they are able.

if you are interested in an apprenticeship.

Henry's family and staff in front of Henry's truck filled with vegetables and ready to go to the Evanston Market

The Film about Henry's Farm

In 2014, filmmaker Ines Sommer read many of the writings of the Brockman family, and then began filming A Season of Change On Henry's Farm as Henry prepared a team of farm-hands to take over his farm while he and Hiroko take their year's sabbatical in Japan.

This film provides an intimate look at both the back story, and the possible future, of Henry's Farm. For the past 22 years, from May through November, Henry has run a complex, sustainable, successful farm with hard work, careful attention, and deep understanding of the connectedness of all things. Instead of using synthetic chemicals, many hands work the land. They seed, weed, mulch, trellis, pick, bunch, dig, pluck, wash, pack, and load the 650+ varieties of vegetables that Henry grows in the rich bottomland of a verdant valley surrounded by oak, maple, and hickory forested hills.

A Season of Change On Henry's Farm offers a thoughtful look at sustainable farming through the story of one farming family and by tracing the changes of weather, of season, of life's stages, and of hands stewarding the land, which is the source of all sustenance.

Photo of Ines in action?