Constituent Spotlight: Paula Karlock
Karlock brings farm life from Kankakee to Chicago
Kankakee County Farm Bureau Foundation President Paula Karlock wants our children to understand that food doesn’t magically grow in the produce section of grocery stores, but on farms cultivated with hard work and a great deal of risk.
For the past 20 years, Karlock has dedicated her life to educating young people about the miraculous world of agriculture. Her goal is to make sure that people quite literally never forget their roots.
“We are so far removed from the farm that people forget where their food comes from,” said Karlock, a resident of Momence in Kankakee.
Coming from generations of farmers, Karlock knows the importance of farming.
“I farm with my cousin, father, and uncle. My family has been farming the same land since the beginning of 1900. Kankakee is unique in that there are a lot of specialty crops—herbs, cabbage, peppers, and melons. I want people to understand that it’s a really good idea to grow locally and to have locally grown foods. People have gotten these ideas about mega farms, but 94% of the farms in Illinois are family owned. Farming is less than 1% of the population, but we feed all the people.”
For Karlock, farming is more than a job; it’s a way of life that she enjoys immensely.
“I love working outside, I love raising a crop each year. It can be stressful because the soil is our livelihood. But you’re your own boss. When you make a decision, it’s your decision.”
The Illinois Farm Bureau creatively teaches the importance of farming to children through its Agriculture in the Classroom Program.
“Our big event for students is Kids’ Day at the Farm at the Kankakee County Fairgrounds. We’ve had as many as 1,200 kids. All the fourth-graders from the county attend sessions at the fairgrounds with 23 different presenters and eight-minute presentations. We’ve offered it as a two-day event where the kids come from about 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock.”
The Farm Bureau also educates through the Classroom Bike Ride fundraiser, which has become quite popular.
“We gather together and for two days we ride to different schools and talk about agriculture to the students. We stay in all different parts of the state. We get donations to help us throughout the bike ride. The money raised is used to help the school print an agriculture magazine.”
She says these lessons have proven to be a hit with teachers and students.
“We cover quite a few schools and use original ways to make students aware that agriculture is around them every day. For example, we break down all the ingredients of pizza using fractions.”
Kankakee’s closeness to Chicago makes frequent cross-programming between the two areas much easier. Karlock recently visited Chicago’s William P. Gray Elementary School in Northwest Chicago as part of the Farm Bureau’s “Adopt-a-Chicago Classroom” program, which teaches students in Chicago about agriculture and its importance to the nation and the world. The program matches urban schools with rural farmers for an educational exchange of information. The kids share their stories and farmers talk about what it’s like to live and work in a rural area. Coincidentally, Gray School happens to be named after a farmer, William P. Gray, who donated the land on which the school was built.
“Each county is matched up with a school. We write letters to them and vice versa. We tell them about what’s happening on the farm and they write letters to us. Sometimes we learn just as much from the (city) students as they do from us. For example, we noticed that they don’t take buses to school. Well, when you live in the country and your closest neighbor is a mile away, you have to take a bus.”
The Bureau also has a Field Moms program, where moms from the city and suburbs come to Kankakee for a day to learn about modern farming practices and gain a better understanding of how food is produced. They visit farms and then share their knowledge with other non-farm families.
Karlock said that Kankakee’s unique location makes it possible for the county to provide food throughout the entire metropolitan Chicago area. She also says many different types of produce and flowers grown in Kankakee County end up at the Farmers Market in Daley Plaza, as well as many other local farmers markets.
“We are only about an hour away from the city, so there are farm trucks that take produce to Chicago. For example, there are a lot of potato crops here that we ship to Chicago for Lay’s Potato Chips.”
Karlock believes the exchange of information and goods creates a positive synergy between urban and rural areas, helping people realize they are more connected than they may realize.
She hopes her efforts at educating the public about farm life will inspire people to buy locally grown goods, support family businesses, and realize how valuable famers are to our nation and the world.
The Kankakee Farm Bureau is a part of the Illinois Farm Bureau.