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Jeri Kinser picks blackberries at the La Colina Linda Farm on Wednesday near Cobden. The farm has been certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

COBDEN — A third local farm has been certified organic by U.S. Department of Agriculture.

La Colina Linda Farm and Bed and Breakfast, located at 610 Heern Road near Cobden, was certified organic earlier this year.

Jeri Kinser and Kathy Ward have been working on the one-acre farm about four years, focusing on organic, veganic and sustainable cultivation of fruits and vegetables.

“When we first started, it was a wide expanse of grass with no birds or bees. We’ve transformed the ecosystem, and we now have bluebirds nesting and butterflies,” Ward said.

Kinser said a rule of thumb is it takes two people to farm one acre, but there’s a lot of work involved at La Colina Linda producing vegetables, keeping the beds dug, picking berries, preparing for guests, cooking, baking and selling goods.

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Ryan Hearn checks on garlic drying at the La Colina Linda Farm on Wednesday near Cobden.

One big part of the work in certifying a farm as organic is record-keeping. Kinser and Ward had to keep records for the three previous years, as well as the current year, to track activity on the farm for everything from amendments to the soil, seeds, where they were planted, amount of food produced by weight and records of sales.

“The hardest part is saving everything,” Kinser said.

She explained when one tries to certify an established farm, you have to keep records from the three years prior to your application. However, new farms only have to have the current year’s records.

“It is much easier to get started right away,” Kinser added.

“Currently, what it means is we have to keep track of produce from seed through market,” Ward said.

The other difficult part of the process is the cost, especially for small farms. Kinser and Ward paid more than $1,000 to the USDA during the certification process.

Ward said they are required to weigh their produce, and this is supposed to help prevent fraud. “A business person should be doing that anyway,” Kinser said.

The record-keeping not only allows the women to track what sells well at market and through the new LEAF Food Hub, but it also helps show which varieties grow best on the farm, as well as the dates of planting and harvesting.

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Jeri Kinser looks for ripe tomatoes in the high tunnel at La Colina Linda Farm on Wednesday morning near Cobden.

“I’m glad to take time to find out what grows well at the farm. We have a lot of phosphorous in the soil, so garlic and root vegetables grow really well,” Ward said.

One of their goals as farmers is to help build the organic and sustainable food system in Southern Illinois. They are pursuing that goal by choosing to grow different crops than other organic farms, such as garlic and edamame. Some overlap is happening, such as with tomatoes.

“Edamame is looking really good this year," Ward said "Fresh edamame is a revelation compared to frozen from China."

The berries also look good.

“This heat is wonderful for the berries, but not for picking them,” Kinser said.

The farm is veganic, meaning no animal products are used on the farm in any form, not even to amend the soil. They also do not use a tiller for their garden.

They have a mobile high tunnel, which can move 90 feet on rails. Plants that like hot weather are planted in the high tunnel.

They have double-dug permaculture raised beds. They follow a method called French bio-intensive farming that compliments their choice to eat vegan and clean.

“I became a vegan in 2009, but I had been a vegetarian since 1978,” Ward said. “Growing foods in a community garden, I was working with Mexican kids whose families had been exposed to pesticides.”

Growing organic food would limit that kind of exposure. Making the farm veganic would also limit exposure to bacteria animals leave behind, like E. coli. As a result, fertility of the soil becomes very important.

“We have to redouble our efforts in fertility at the farm,” Ward said.

They also view the farm as an educational tool. Ward is a Vegan Fusion certified teacher and chef. They host farm-to-table meals at the farm, with 85 percent or more of the food sourced from local organic and sustainable growers. They also hosted a permaculture bio-intensive field day.

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Ryan Hearn digs up potatoes at La Colina Linda Farm on Wednesday morning near Cobden.

Kinser jokes that it all started when Ward said, “I have an idea.”

To find produce and gluten-free baked goods from Ward and Kinser, visit Carbondale Farmers Market on Saturday mornings at West Town or order online through LEAF Food Hub. For the latest information, visit La Colina Linda Farm or Plant a Seed/cultiva una semilla on Facebook.

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Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Herrin and Carterville, and is the food writer for The Southern.

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