When Jody Osmund left the family farm to go off to college, he was positive that his days of country living were a thing of the past. This was back when the only time it seemed that farmers ever made headlines was courtesy of Willie Nelson and Farm Aid. “In the late 1980s, no one was encouraging their kids to go into farming,” says Jody’s wife, Beth. After getting their degrees from Northern Illinois, the couple began to climb the corporate ladder in Chicago: Jody, at Andersen Consulting and Allstate; Beth, at Arthur Andersen.
Then came 9/11. If that tragedy didn’t hit hard enough, just months later the Enron scandal put Arthur Andersen out of business. For Jody and Beth, it was time for a change.
“We had always talked about coming back to the farm someday, but it was always this far-off dream,” Beth says. “At first I brought it up jokingly, but it was the one idea we kept coming back to.”
The farmland where Jody’s mother was raised — 85 acres about an hour outside of Chicago — was still in the family. It was a dreamy place. Indian Creek meandered through the woodsy landscape. In 2002, the city slickers quit their jobs and leased the land. Beth found a teaching job, and Jody rolled up his sleeves.
Initially, the Osmunds grew vegetables, which they sold through a community supported agriculture (CSA) model where consumers buy directly from a grower. In return, they receive farm-fresh baskets of food throughout the growing season. The program worked so well for the Osmunds that in 2006 they started the first meat CSA in the Chicago area. “We loved the CSA model, because we really got to know our customers, which is important to us,” Beth says. The Osmunds go so far as to host their CSA members on Farm Day. This year, members of their CSA are even invited to a barbecue and overnight campout.
Although the couple had strong ties to the area, the Osmunds wondered whether their ideas for sustainable agriculture would ruffle any feathers. “Initially we were concerned that conventional farmers might be skeptical. ‘Here’s these city kids coming back and telling us we’re doing it wrong,’” Beth says. “But we’ve been very well-received. Many of the older farmers are our parents’ generation. They’re glad to see anyone coming back into farming.
Today, the Osmunds provide baskets full of eggs and different cuts of beef, pork, and poultry. In addition to their CSA members — mostly Chicago area foodies — Jody and Beth are regulars at a weekly farmers’ market in Chicago. Beth quit her teaching job. Their boys are homeschooled by their mother. Long story short, the family farm now supports them lock, stock, and barrel.
This summer the family will spend many an hour around a campfire along Indian Creek — a far cry from life in the burbs. Jody and Beth wouldn’t have it any other way. They’re glad they traded in business suits for rubber farming boots. “It’s really different,” Beth laughs. “If you had asked us 15 years ago where we would be, I’m sure we would have never have guessed it would be on a farm.”