After meeting in high school, we dated for a brief time and after graduating both went our different directions. Brad to the Army and being stationed in Germany, while Jackie moved to Florida and began college and working full time. We kept in contact over the years and when Brad returned and was in college we reconnected. After getting married and Brad's teaching for a couple years in the Chicago suburbs; we relocated to Bloomington/Normal and he took on the job of Industrial Technology teacher at University High School and Jackie began working at Country Companies. Over the years we often spoke of designing and building our own home. As fate would have it 30 acres of land became available a couple miles west of Bloomington. We hand planted over 5000 native trees and shrubs as part of a conservation wind break, prairie restoration and reforestation project on the highly erodible land that was being farmed here. After designing and building our dream home, Jackie became pregnant with twin boys. Unfortunately, due to pre-term labor we lost them both November 2004. After the loss, we very much wanted to start a family and in 2006 Lauren was born. At that time we decide Jackie was to stop working at Country and dedicate her time to being a full time mother, but we still needed a source of income, so we started a farm.
Our Farm: Growing for the Future
We wanted to grow things naturally, so we turned to the USDA Organic Program and Certified Naturally Grown process to use as guides to our farm practices. In the spring of 2006 we ordered and began raising 300 day old baby layer chicks. We designed and built a brooder house and shortly thereafter a layer house. Growing them cage free and on pasture, feeding them organic/non-GMO feed, we started selling eggs at the Downtown Bloomington Farmer's Market. Soon demand swelled and we expanded to another layer house and began selling at local stores and to restaurants. Customers began asking us for more products and we obliged. First expanding to no chemical produce and then to meat chickens and turkeys, then to beef cattle and finally goats and sheep. We planted fruit trees, berries and a variety of shrubs to later harvest for additional products, all with no herbicides, pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Brad continues to teach and we continued our farm through the birth of our son Ethan in 2008 and later our youngest son Peyton in 2017. All of who work on the farm doing chores, tending livestock and gardening. Our lives took a dramatic turn in 2018 as our dream home was tragically lost to a house fire in that September. So much love, comfort and assistance came to us from near and far. Friends, family, colleagues and even strangers helped us cleanup and get us back on our feet from this tragedy. For this we are forever grateful and feel blessed beyond words. Due to the rebuild, our focus needed to be primarily on our family and home needs. As a result we now have a good deal of maintenance to catch up on at the farm. Then Covid hit.
How the Pioneer & Sustainability Center Began
We not only talk about sustainability here, but we also live it. It's no secret that many people have been affected by COVID-19, along with the down economy and inflation over the past few years. In turn, we have as well. Along with those challenges and mentioned above, we had a newborn (Peyton in 2017), a total loss house fire in fall of 2018 and Jackie was crippled and almost unable to walk for the past 3 years with degenerative hip issues and had both hips replaced this year. Our oldest 2 children Ethan and Lauren have been helping Brad rebuild the house after the fire for the past 3 years and with that the farm had taken a backseat. Due to these challenges our productivity and profits have been reduced and banks have not been willing to assist us in our "non-sustainable" living, so something had to give. We do believe that things happen for a reason and with God all things are possible. Maybe this is our nudge to do something different and start to prepare for life after retiring from ISU. Brad grew up rural and has worked on farms most of his life. He has always been drawn to engineering and technology, loves to build, tinker and fix things. He is also fascinated with antiques and learning about culture. Jackie's experiences with retail management, customer service and homestead agriculture, along with Brad having taught Engineering, Technology and Agriculture for 27 years and looking at retiring within the next few years; we have decided to enter a new endeavor to help us remain sustainable and follow a life journey for community development and education. Combining these passions, education and learned experiences the Pioneer and Sustainability AgriLearning Center was created.