Success Story - Organic Farming Is “In The Family”
Illinois Success Story
Organic Farming Is “In The Family”
By: Paige buck, NRCS State Public Affairs Specialist
Date: October 2010
Duane Baker made the switch to organic but he started
long before organic was “cool.” He did it a long time ago and he did it right.
“I’ve been farming my whole life,” Baker explains, “and I’ve always had a strong
desire to grow things and do things the right way.” Baker’s Father and
Grandfather were early organic farmers who used a simplistic approach that was
common, sensible protocol back then. Over the years, USDA’s Natural Resources
Conservation Service (NRCS) and many other partners helped him find success
along the way.
When chemical dependency and inputs were made available
and their use was the new normal, during the late 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s, Baker
tried a few of the new options but stood out as the only ‘organic farmer’ in
Crawford County, Illinois. “Everyone thought I was nuts,” he adds. “I tried
farming with heavy chemical add-ons but I knew there was a better way.” In the
1980’s, Baker experimented with a back-to-basics, more sustainable farm
operation. By cutting his inputs and chemical costs, he kept the farm alive and
Over the years the University of Illinois offered a number of special research
projects and farm tours. Baker took the plunge and got involved with these
programs and with those of other conservation-oriented partners as much as he
could. He worked and collaborated with other organic operators in Illinois and
other states, learning from them and sharing his own knowledge and successes as
To address erosion and other natural resource concerns on the farm, Baker worked
with NRCS to develop and implement a Conservation Plan. A number of practices
like grassed waterways and a grade stabilization structure were some of the
innovative solutions put to work on his Crawford County ground. NRCS also helped
Baker create a livestock waste management system, build a pond, and form a
pasture and hay planting operation for his herd.
Organic crops grown on Baker’s farm included a variety of marketable organic
grains like buckwheat, spelt (a low-level gluten grain), open-pollinated corn,
hybrid seed corn and organic popcorn.
Baker has always been a believer in the value that carefully selected cover
crops add to his operation. “My regular cover crops include hairy vetch, red
clover and rye—they always did well and gave the protection and nutrients my
Baker’s long-standing education on organic systems came
from many different sources and organizations, including good old-fashioned
experience—that’s what taught him why organic is better and how to make it work.
In 1997, Baker’s ground was officially certified ORGANIC.
Years on organic ground has taught Baker the importance of managing and
maintaining soil health and soil quality. “When your livelihood depends on what
comes from the soil, you’re a fool if you don’t treat that soil like it’s GOLD!”
Baker is also a firm believer in regular soil tests, every year or so, because
he’s learned it is crucial to know—and not to GUESS—what you’re soil needs.
In 2001, Baker served on the steering committee that eventually became the
Midwest Organic Farmer’s Cooperative (MOFC). In 2008, he retired from farming.
His children were not able to take over the operation, leaving the difficult
task of finding a worthy landowner to care for his family’s ground. Baker sold
part of the farm to an old friend and neighbor and the rest is now in the hands
of an Amish family who are committed to continue his sustainable organic
operation and care for the land with the same passion its grown accustom to.
“The new family also has access to small, organic niche markets which are set up
for exactly what these fields produce. I’ve left my farm in good ‘organic’
hands,” Baker adds. He continues to support the MOFC and serves as their Seeds
Coordinator, helping more farmers find success, profitability, and a quality
operation in organic farming.
Profiles Baker (PDF, 1577kb)