Urban farm’s mission specialty crops, reducing food insecurity

Team members with Sola Gratia Farm, a ministry of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Urbana, show a few of their specialty crops. The farm grows up to 150 varieties of 50 types of vegetables and cover crops on 15 acres and in two high tunnels. (Photo courtesy of Sola Gratia)

A unique, mission-driven urban farm feeds many people from a few Urbana acres in Champaign County.

Sola Gratia Farm, a ministry of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, grows up to 150 varieties of 50 types of vegetables and cover crops on 15 acres and in two high tunnels. Visit solagratiacsa.com or follow the farm on Facebook and Instagram.

The farm’s produce graces the tables of market customers along with those eating at local soup kitchens and receiving food from area food pantries.

Sola Gratia markets fresh produce through a 200-member community supported agriculture (CSA) operation sold in three seasonal subscriptions, according to Traci Barkley, the farm director. CSA 2022 shares will be offered for sale starting in October.

The farm also sells its products at three farmers markets: Champaign Farmers Market, Tuesday afternoons through October; Urbana’s Market at the Square, Saturday mornings through October; and a winter market at Lincoln Square Mall, Saturdays from November through April.

The farm uses organic practices, but its produce is not certified organic, Barkley clarified.

Soon, Barkley and her staff will plant a variety of cool-season crops, including beets, turnips, carrots and other root vegetables along with different greens, in the two high tunnels for winter production.

Feeding others is the core of the farm’s existence.

By late August, Sola Gratia had donated more than 8,000 pounds of fresh produce and that total will continue to grow, according to Barkley. By the end of 2021, she estimated the farm will have donated more than 100,000 pounds of produce during its 10 years of existence.

“Our mission is reducing food insecurity,” Barkley said.

Barkley outlined different avenues for the farm’s donations.

On Mondays, Sola Gratia donates produce to a soup kitchen serving meals to between 100 and 200 people and on Tuesdays to a different soup kitchen serving food to 200 people daily. On Wednesdays, Sola Gratia donates fresh vegetables to the Eastern Illinois Food Bank that serves food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in 18 eastern Illinois counties. On Fridays from June through October, the farm opens for a neighborhood market in its low-income neighborhood in conjunction with the local health department. Sola Gratia also donates produce for a mobile market operated from a converted mass transit bus and participates in special events, such as a program for seniors.

Education and outreach are also part of the farm. For several years, the Champaign County Farm Bureau has partnered with Sola Gratia for a summer camp where kids learn about food production and nutrition. The county Farm Bureau has also worked with the farm on other projects.

Cultivating Our Communities is a collaboration by Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Specialty Growers Association to raise awareness of the diverse farm products in Illinois.