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As climate changes, East Peoria farm digs in for organic approach

Madison Schwidenhammer
Courtesy / Evan Barry
Down River Farm owner Evan Barry.

Fall is officially here, and farmers are working tirelessly to prepare for another round of bountiful harvests. Down River Farm owner Evan Barry is part of that effort.

Barry started his organic vegetable farm in East Peoria in 2017. Since then, he’s managed to sell his produce at the Peoria Riverfront Market every year.

“It feels like every year there’s more people that show up and want to support what we’re doing,” said Barry.

While support for the farm remains consistent, the real challenge lies within the changing climate, which is impacting farmers everywhere.

“If you want to make a career out of this, you have to be thinking about these things,” Barry said.

Droughts, erratic rainfalls, and hotter temperatures are all things he notes makes farming difficult these days.

“Nowadays it seems like we're entering more of like, we have a dry season then wet season… and we really have to adjust our crop offerings because of that,” he said.

Although the unpredictable weather makes planning out the season challenging, Barry explains that organic farming does have less climate impact than other conventional methods.

“Farming starts with soil health...generally speaking, organic soils are going to be much healthier. They’re going to have more organic matter in them, which in turn holds moisture, which is going to help during droughts,” he said.

In addition to leaving behind a smaller ecological footprint, Barry believes farming organically is key in ensuring the soil can be utilized in the future.

“That's the only way that we, as a society, are going to be judged, is the health of our soil for our children,” said Barry.

Even though the farmers market season is over, there’s still plenty of ways to receive Down River Farm’s produce. The farm offers a variety of CSAs, which stands for community supported agriculture. This pay ahead subscription program allows for community members to pick up bundles of whatever produce is in season every week. There’s also a weekly share option for those who don’t want to commit to the full length of a CSA.

“To me, the whole concept of CSA is about shared risk. No matter what happens in the fields, we are together in this ... we’re committing to grow the best, highest quality, most abundant produce that we can, and you are investing in us as farmers,” says Barry.

More information on Down River Farm and CSA subscriptions can be found at downrivervegetablefarm.com.

Jody Holtz is WCBU's assistant development director, assistant program director, host of WCBU's newsmagazine All Things Peoria and producer of WCBU’s arts and culture podcast Out and About.