Saving Illinois Farms Through Equity and Sustainability

Black Oaks Center 1

Feb 22, 2024


Illinois State Museum
502 S Spring St
Springfield, IL 62706


Free; In-Person
Virtual option available

How can we secure the future of Illinois' small and family-run farms and support equity and sustainability along the way? 

Illinois is a farming state. As of April 2019, Illinois farmland covered 27 million acres -- about 75 percent of the state's total land area – which comprised 72,000 farms. Our state ranks fifth nationally in the export of agricultural products, $10.6 billion worth of which are shipped to other countries. Yet, Illinois farmers are struggling to sustain their farms, both financially and ecologically, while those who are hired to provide labor – often immigrants – face dangerous working conditions, poverty wages, and unstable housing. Join a panel of Illinois farmers and advocates for a discussion about how to pave the way for a more equitable, sustainable, and just path forward for our farms and our state.

This event is free and open to guests of all ages. Registration is requested, but not required.


Alexandra Sossa, Bilingual Executive Director, Farmworker and Landscaper Advocacy Project

Alexandra Sossa has more than 32 years of experience performing community outreach and education for very low-income Latinx immigrants. She has a long history of public service dating back to her work with coffee plantation workers in Colombia, where she also worked for nearly a decade with the Attorney General’s Office. She has educated low-income workers on their rights in the United States, Spain, and Colombia. In March of 2019, she was awarded the Foundation Award from the Illinois Human Rights Commission (IHRC) to honor her commitment in promoting and cultivating women’s rights, freedom, and achievement in Illinois. She presently sits on the Steering Committee of the Chicago Region Food System Fund, which responds to hunger and business disruption by bolstering the region’s communities and local food system. Ms. Sossa graduated from the University of Medellin School of Law, Colombia and is certificated as a bilingual Mediator at the Center for Conflict Resolution in Chicago, Illinois. 

Fred Carter, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Black Oaks Center

Fred Carter, alongside his wife Dr. Jifunza Wright-Carter, is the co-founder of Black Oaks Center. Dr. Wright-Carter serves as its president and Mr. Carter serves as its Executive Director. Black Oaks Center is a non-profit coalition focused on sustainable agriculture, environmental justice, and community empowerment. With a shared passion for promoting food sovereignty, they work tirelessly to provide education, training, and resources to marginalized communities, promoting self-sufficiency and resilience. Black Oaks Center is located in Pembroke Township/Hopkins Park. The area’s residents have been the dedicated stewards of what is now known as the Kankakee Sands, one of the most cherished ecosystems in Illinois. This tradition of stewardship dates back to the indigenous people, the Potawatomi, who carefully maintained the savanna through controlled burns. Hopkins Park, located in Pembroke Township, holds a significant place in history as one of the oldest black rural townships. Its founding dates back to before the Emancipation Proclamation by a courageous runaway slave named Pap Tetter. In 1861, Tetter and his family of 18 children escaped from North Carolina and settled on 42 acres of land, known today as Old Hopkins Park. This became a safe haven not only for runaway slaves but also for the Potawatomi people who chose not to go to reservations. By the mid-20th century, Pembroke became the largest black farming community north of the Mason Dixon Line. 

Renzo Ceme Vinces, Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator, University of Illinois Extension

Renzo Ceme Vinces is the Extension Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator serving Grundy, Kankakee, & Will Counties.  In this role, Renzo empowers communities and provides Illinois residents with the resources and confidence they need to produce, grow, and consume local agricultural products. As Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator, Renzo delivers impactful programming that supports the spectrum of producers and stakeholders. Prior to his role with Extension, Renzo worked as the Field Coordinator at the National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International (NCBA CLUSA) in Ecuador for the Farmer-to-Farm program where he worked to support the capacity building of small farmers through training topics the program provided them. Renzo holds a Master of Science degree from Texas Tech University in Agricultural Education (2023) and a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental and Development from Zamorano University (2018).

Join the event virtually!

Not able to join us in Springfield? This event will be broadcast virtually so you can join us from wherever you are! RSVP below to receive a link to join by Zoom, or check back here on the day of the event to access the broadcast.


ASL or Spanish-language translation are available by request. If you would like to request translation at this event, please contact Illinois Humanities at no later than 48 hours prior to the event.

About the NEA Big Read: Reconsidering the American Dream

This event is presented as a part of Illinois Humanities' NEA Big Read program: Reconsidering the American Dream. The free book group and events series invites Illinoisans to read together and examine challenging questions together to broaden our imaginations and understanding of our world.

Learn More

Big Read Hero courtesy Fox River Grove Memorial Library