Saving Illinois Farms Through Equity and Sustainability – Learn about the state of farming in Illinois, February 22 at the Illinois State Museum

Press Releases
Illinois Humanities

Read Time 4 minutes
February 14, 2024

For Immediate Release   

Sarah Sommers
Phone: (773) 251 - 4772

CHICAGO, FEBRUARY 14, 2024 — Illinois Humanities and the Illinois State Museum will present Saving Illinois Farms Through Equity and Sustainability, the next event in the NEA Big Read: Reconsidering the American Dream series, on February 22, from 6:00 - 7:30 p.m. CT. This timely panel discussion features Illinois farmers and advocates who are helping to pave the way for a more equitable, sustainable, just, and thriving path forward for our farms and our state. Panelists include Alexandra Sossa, Bilingual Executive Director, Farmworker and Landscaper Advocacy ProjectFred Carter, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Black Oaks Center, and Renzo Ceme Vinces, Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator, University of Illinois Extension. The event is free at the Illinois State Museum, 502 S. Spring St, Springfield, IL 62706, and a virtual broadcast will also be available for attendees unable to join in Springfield. 

Though Illinois is approximately 75% farm land and ranks fifth nationally in the export of agricultural products, 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. Panelists will examine the challenges facing Illinois farming and illuminate the many coalitions and efforts in action to promote equity and sustainability in the industry. 

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 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. 

Fred Carter, alongside his wife Dr. Jifunza Wright-Carter, is the co-founder of Black Oaks Center. 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.

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.

This event is a part of the Illinois Humanities program, The NEA Big Read: Reconsidering the American Dream, which includes a series of free book groups, public events, and hands-on workshops that explore and challenge our understanding of the "American Dream" through two engaging books: Sarah Smarsh's Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth and Patricia Engel's Infinite Country

This free, all-ages event is hosted in partnership with the Illinois State Museum. RSVP is recommended but not required.

Learn more about The NEA Big Read: Reconsidering the American Dream, join or start a book group, and register for an upcoming event at

The NEA Big Read is a program of Illinois Humanities made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.

About Illinois Humanities

Illinois Humanities, the Illinois affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a statewide nonprofit organization that activates the humanities through free public programs, grants, and educational opportunities that foster reflection, spark conversation, build community, and strengthen civic engagement. We provide free, high-quality humanities experiences throughout Illinois, particularly for communities of color, individuals living on low incomes, counties and towns in rural areas, small arts and cultural organizations, and communities highly impacted by mass incarceration. Founded in 1974, Illinois Humanities is supported by state, federal, and private funds. Stay connected with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn @ILHumanities.

About The NEA Big Read

The National Endowment for the Arts Big Read, a partnership with Arts Midwest, broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. Showcasing a diverse range of themes, voices, and perspectives, the NEA Big Read aims to inspire conversation and discovery. Learn more about the NEA Big Read.

Since the NEA Big Read initiative began, many organizations have received funds to participate in the program. Learn more about the other organizations in Illinois that will participate in the 2022/2023 season.

About Arts Midwest

Arts Midwest believes that creativity has the power to inspire and unite humanity. Based in Minneapolis, they grow, gather, and invest in creative organizations and communities throughout the nine-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and beyond.

Arts Midwest is serving as an organization partner for NEA Big Read.