Master Gardener farm tour provides a chance to learn

Getting to see what other farmers are doing is always an enlightening experience. For me to see what they are doing right and learning from them is a great way to improve what I am doing at the farm. If I can offer them advice as well then it is mutually beneficial. This week I had the opportunity to tour a couple of area farms as I was invited to tag along and see how these farmers are helping to supply local produce to Western Illinois.

The tour was part of the June meeting of the Knox County Master Gardener program. Both farms are near Galesburg and are currently involved in the Galesburg Farmers Market.  Both are currently, or have in the past, also sold their produce through CSAs. Both have also sold produce to Galesburg area restaurants including Baked, Landmark, enSeason Café, and also to Knox College.

Spurgeon Veggies CSA, in East Galesburg, Illinois was the first stop.  Eloise and Dusty Spurgeon have grown about ¾ acre of vegetables for the past 6 years and sell them at the Galesburg Farmers Market and through their 35 customer CSA.

(Click on pictures for a better view)



Eloise Spurgeon in a high tunnel put up in August 2012


Spurgeon Veggies CSA cabbage in an Agribon row cover


Floating row covers were used for several types of vegetables. Flea beetles are a concern at Spurgeon Veggies. There was an example shown of a flea beetle infestation.


Peas planted early at Spurgeon Veggies


Tomatoes were mulched with straw. A question was raised if the straw could be a problem, by promoting disease, during this wet year. Eloise Spurgeon said that she did not see any evidence of disease and she did not think that it would be a problem.


Spurgeon Veggies put in over 600 pounds of potatoes this year. This includes some planted on previously unplanted lawn that was plowed this year. The plowing was a lot of work with the tiller that they have and Eloise said that any future expansion would be done with the help of somebody with a tractor and a plow.


More potatoes.


Determinate tomatoes, along with cucumbers, tried for the first time in the Spurgeon high tunnel.


Worm composter in the high tunnel.


Eloise and Dusty Spurgeon along with Dahinda, Illinois farmer Tom Collopy.


Blue Ribbon Farms in Knoxville, Illinois is owned by Jim Stanley. He is currently selling his produce and potted plants at the Galesburg Farmers Market every Saturday.


Much of the produce at Blue Ribbon Farms is grown in a high tunnel or hoophouse.


High tunnel tomatoes at Blue Ribbon Farms.


High tunnel squash


Blue Ribbon Farms also grows herbs. High tunnels often allow growers to get a jump start on the growing season, especially in northern states. The season can also be extended well into the fall and in some cases all year production is possible.


Blue Ribbon Farms garlic.


Jim Stanley of Blue Ribbon Farms discussing the merits of a vermicomposter.


Knox County Master Gardeners getting a sample of local food.


Walt McAllister, of Q’s Café in Galesburg was the chef who provided his talents and catered the event. He served salad and pulled pork sandwiches that were terrific! The salad that was served to the Master Gardener participants was from Spurgeon Veggies and Blue Ribbon Farms. The pulled pork was made from pork raised at author’s own Smiling Frog Farm in Dahinda, Illinois

The Master Gardener Program is an educational training program open to the general public. Following acceptance into the program, the trainee begins the core training. This includes daytime classes taught once a week for 11 weeks, beginning in mid to late January. Attendance for all 11 classes is mandatory. Classes are taught by University of Illinois specialists and extension educators.

Upon successful completion of the classroom training units and passing the final exam, you will become a Master Gardener Intern. The internship consists of fulfilling volunteer hours approximately equal to the number of hours of classroom training received (60 hours). Certified Master Gardeners are those who have completed their classroom training and internship. To be an active Master Gardener you must remain current in annual educational updates (a minimum of 10 hours) and volunteer service hours (a minimum of 30 hours) required by the local program.

According to the University of Illinois Extension website the mission of the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener program is:

“Helping Others Learn to Grow.’ Master Gardeners involve people in improving the quality of life by helping them find sound management practices for home and urban natural resources, by creating aesthetically pleasing environments, by promoting well-being through people-plant interactions and horticultural therapy, and by contributing to a safe, abundant food supply through home fruit and vegetable production.”

Knox County Master Gardeners

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