First-Generation Farmers Put Down Roots in Southern Illinois
After the birth of their first child, Phoenix natives Talina and Nathan Ryder found a deep satisfaction in growing their own food for their growing family. Chasing that feeling, they traded in city life for life on the farm.
“We liked the idea of providing for ourselves,” says Nathan, a former news anchor and public relations professional. Leaving the desert behind, they decided to venture out to the Midwest where it rains more regularly.
“It was very unconventional. Nobody in our families had been involved in ag before,” says Talina, who taught dance and worked in hospitality when they lived in Phoenix. “People thought we were crazy.”
From the Ground Up
Undeterred, their dream eventually drew them to southern Illinois. There, they spent three years working as farmhands, learning how to operate tractors, handle livestock and work the land. Eager to work their own land, they leased a 10-acre plot in Golconda. After purchasing the land in 2017, the Ryder Family Farm was born.
Today, the Ryders raise dairy goats, sheep, chickens, ducks and turkeys. They also grow a wide variety of vegetables – all with a holistic touch.
“We adhere to a lot of organic practices and try to take a sustainable approach that’s beneficial to the land,” Nathan says.
Along with sustainability, the couple shares a passion for keeping locally grown produce in the community. To do just that, the Ryders launched Pope County’s first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in 2015.
“Our CSA gains more traction every year,” Talina says. “More people today want to reconnect with where their food comes from.”
From asparagus to zucchini, most of the produce grown at Ryder Family Farm makes its way to CSA members, who receive deliveries every week during the growing season. The rest of the farm’s produce is sold at the Golconda Farmers Market.
“We aim to be like a grocery store for our members. If you can think of it, we probably grow it,” Nathan says. And thanks to a new high tunnel system, or hoop house in which crops grow in the ground but are protected from the elements, the farm’s growing season just got longer.
The Ryder’s adventures in agriculture followed a simple approach: start small, learn and grow. For example, they purchased their first dairy goat to provide milk for their family. Soon after, Talina began experimenting with the excess milk, creating lush artisan soaps scented with essential oil blends like orange cocoa and peppermint bliss. Today, they have a whole herd of goats and an online store where they sell their handcrafted soaps.
Mum’s the Word
Along with their popular produce and handmade products, the Ryder Family Farm has become a destination for mums, pumpkins and squash. With hardy mums in vivid colors ranging from pink frenzy to orange zest (not to mention the Shawnee National Forest next door), the farm offers a feast for the eyes in fall.
“Fall is our busiest and favorite season,” Talina says. “More and more, our fall activities are taking us down the agritourism path. We’d like to add an apple orchard and set up a petting zoo to make it even more welcoming.”
Fall is also a prime time at the farm for a trendy workout: goat yoga.
“People want to connect with animals,” Talina says. “Goat yoga is an easy way to put the two together. It’s a lot of fun to see people laughing and letting go.”
Sharing the Dream
While well worth the journey, “it’s not easy to become a first-generation farmer,” Talina says. “It took six years of trial and error for us. You cannot give up the first time around. Failing is a great learning experience.”
These first-generation farmers share their hard-earned lessons with the next generation: Everly, 10; Adalyn, 8; and Grayson, 6. The three children embrace country life – not to mention baby lambs and goats.
“They get to see the wonder of the natural world unfold every day,” Talina says. “The kids especially love the baby animals.”
To plant a seed with other future farmers, Nathan teaches inmates at Vienna Correctional Center about horticulture and how they can build a farm business after serving their time.
“It’s rewarding to teach people to be self-sustaining and possibly make a business of it,” says Nathan, who hopes to one day create an on-farm program targeting the veteran population. “Agriculture is a golden opportunity for veterans and farmers planning to retire.”
Now that the Ryders have finally realized their dream, they are eager to share it with others.
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The Ryder Family Farm plans to open to the public every weekend in October. Learn more at ryderfamilyfarm.com.
“We want to evolve into more of a public place,” says Talina, whose background in hospitality shines through. This spring, she made a comforting offer to a CSA member – a weary nurse working the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis.
“I told her to come out and cuddle a lamb, visit the gardens, have some ‘me’ time. This is your farm, too.”