Interview with Abby Schilling of Mick Klug Farms by Lisa Kalabokis
What is Mick Klug Farm's history with Green City Market?
My dad, Mick Klug, started attending the market when it was first started by Abby Mandel in an alley! It was a very slow start, but the market became more popular when it moved to the park. Since then, we continued to grow and form relationships with GCM customers, vendors, staff and partners. Also, it has been a place to meet and form relationships with the chef and restaurant community of Chicago. My dad has always been passionate about the success of the market, and has always supported its mission. He never hesitated to voice his opinion...especially to the City regarding cancelling the market for the Air and Water Show! Mark (my husband) and I hope to carry on that tradition of support, passion and relationship building. Mick will always be the backbone of the farm, and it has been a wonderful transition to see my dad get to slow down a bit as Mark and I become more involved.
Describe a day in life of Abby Schilling!
A day in the life of Abby Schilling depends greatly on what time of year it is! I will describe a summer's day, as you may be pretty bored if I describe a winter's day. If it is a market day, I wake up at 2:00 am, load any additional things that I need to onto the truck, and head to Chicago with a few employees who ride with me. It takes about two hours to get there. When we get to the market, we start unloading the truck and setting up the stand. We have to be ready to sell at 7:00 am when the market opens (although some of my favorite customers are there before that!) We sell until 1:00 pm, and then start breaking down the stand, load the truck, and head back to the farm. Once we get there, we unload the truck and organize the barn as best we can. Then, I have a little time to try and get some work done in the office before I have to pick-up my two children from daycare.
Office work includes sending product availability information to restaurant customers, creating invoices, and communicating with the farm employees what needs to be picked the next day. After picking up Lola, age 3, and Beckett, age 1, Mark and I work together to make dinner, eat as a family, give the kids a bath and get them to bed. Some nights I go back out to the barn after the kids are in bed to pack any late orders that come in, make sure all of the invoices are done, and tie up any loose ends. By that time, I am pretty beat, so I head to bed.
The days that I do not go to market don't start quite as early, but include a great array of tasks on the farm, including crop checking (to see what is ready to be picked), helping the employees harvest to ensure it is being done properly, packing wholesale orders, paying bills, doing payroll, checking on irrigation, etc. This is a difficult questions to answer, as everyday is so different!
What is your favorite part about being a farmer?
My favorite part about being a farmer is forming relationships with our customers and other market vendors. It is special to be able to communicate directly with the people who are eating the food you grow!
What's your least favorite part about being a farmer?
My least favorite part about being a farmer is that there never seems to be enough time in the day. During the season, there are so many moving parts, and long "to do" lists, that it can become overwhelming.
What do you hope to teach your customers about farming?
I hope to teach my customers that there are SO many variables, most of which we cannot control, in farming. I like to take them through the process of what it takes to get, for example, a pint of raspberries to their tables.
What do you think the biggest misconceptions are about being a farmer?
I believe one of the biggest misconceptions about farming is that it is all about working outside, easily planting and picking beautiful delicious fruit andvegetables, and watching the sunset over your fields. Although we get to experience some of that, there is a lot more involved, and it is not always "rainbows and butterflies." Quite frankly, it's HARD. One challenge offarming is the business side, which farmers aren't always naturally good at. Farm labor shortages and issues, labor housing and licensing, market staffing, market applications, regulations, sales, food safety, audits, certifications, vehicle safety compliance, disease and pest control, water use reporting, and taxes are all a big part of farming that not a lot of people realize.
What is it like working with the local chef & restaurant community? How important is it to farmers to have institutional/restaurant partnerships?
Working with local chefs and restaurants is one of my favorite parts of my jobs! It is so interesting and inspiring to see how they are using our produce. It is especially fun to have a dialogue with them about how ripe or under-ripe they prefer we harvest particular crops for them, what they want to see us grow, and what their favorites are. I think that dialogue in particular is unique to the farm-to-table movement, and something chefs would not be able to experience when buying from a third-party vendor. The partnerships are critical to the success of our farm. We would not be able to sell everything we harvest if we only had farmers markets as an outlet. They also play a key role in promoting our farm to consumers, as they often feature our farm's name on their menus.
If you could give one piece of advice to the average consumer about how to positively change our food system, what would it be?
Buy locally grown, in-season produce! When community residents support local farmers, instead of buying produce from different states and countries at the grocery store, they are making an impact in numerous ways.
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