Growing a Vision of Reciprocity, Care and Belonging on the Farm

Sandra Kooper
Sandra and Pinto in her spring-planted backyard vegetable garden, surrounded by perennial plants already in bloom.

A woman reached out to me and wanted to talk about farmland. She wasn’t real specific. Was she a farmer? A landowner? I had no idea. But why not? So we talked and thirty minutes later I was so grateful I had had the conversation.

Sandra Kooper, as you will read below, has a dream for how farmland, community, and purpose might come together for her and others like her. It’s not the kind of dream we usually encounter and share in this newsletter. Sandra is a city-girl born and raised on the south side of Chicago. She has been an urban gardener for over 26 years on her small suburban backyard plot. Sandra is not looking to become a full-time farmer. Instead, she has what she calls the “seed of an idea.” It’s about how she might live on or near farmland in community as she lives out her days richly and with meaning. 

“I believe I am not the only one out there with this kind of dream,” she told me. She has faith that if she puts the broad outlines of her dream out there others will help her refine it and develop it further for their mutual benefit. 

Farmland access is not just about finding the right land for an agricultural business. It’s about personal and communal ties to the land that people are rediscovering. For that reason, we wanted to share Sandra’s dream. We hope it will resonate with some of you and that you will reach out to explore the seed of an idea further with her. Enjoy.

The land is in my blood, not because I’ve been a farmer, but because my ancestors have. I may not have met these ancestors, but I can feel them urging me on through the rumblings of my own deep passions and drives. One of these unshakable urgings is to live the last part of my life on the land, surrounded by nature and a small community of people that is also connected to the earth. So far, life’s circumstances have kept me from doing this. However, the time has come to find a way to make this happen . . . no more distractions.

I believe what I’m imagining is unique—something I don’t think yet exists. All I can do is describe the vision of what I think it could look like.

I see a small farm that has been loved into old age and its owner, who has aged side-by-side with the land, is trying to hold on to it. Both the land and the farmer have more to give, but both need help for this next part of the journey.

Near the original house, where the landowner still lives, I see 1-3 small cottage-like structures, each surrounded by a white picket fence enclosing perennial gardens bursting with color. It’s lovely. The few people living there create a community of like-minded, earth-loving individuals, each looking for something similar. They may be artists, bakers, musicians, wood workers, gardeners, seamstresses, or animal lovers. They give each other space, yet are there should any one of them need help.

If the farm still has life, this small group of people, each with their own well-earned bushel of life’s lessons, would be able to help in any way they are able. If the farm needs to be revitalized, they may be able to offer creative ideas. These few people could participate in the re-birthing of this place, and the land would, in turn, re-fuel the embers of hope and purpose in the people who live there. 

Perhaps there are others who have reached this stage in life where they, too, share this vision. Or, perhaps, there are people already living on the land and their life circumstances have brought them to a place where they need to share the land in order to keep living on the land. 

And that is where my vision rests, in a holding pattern, much like the seed that has been planted in the ground. What that seed needs now is the energy of synchronicity—the magic that happens when an idea is cast to the wind and someone reaches out to grab a hold of it, and that someone finds they have another idea that might help the seed grow. 

For me, this vision is a new way of looking at elderhood—a way for these later years to remain vital by being somehow intertwined with the land. If this vision has made you stop and wonder and fill with questions . . . good! Then you have reached out and caught a hold of this seed of an idea. Let’s explore it together and see what grows.

We'd be happy to connect you with Sandra. Please send an email to info@illinoisfarmlink.org.