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ATLANTA — The Bishop family of PrairiErth Farm in Atlanta has won the R.J. Vollmer Award for Sustainable Agriculture.

The award was presented by the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Dave Bishop has been farming his 300-acre farm since 1981. Over time, his sons Graham and Hans joined the farm and broadened the range of enterprises. Dave's daughter, Kristin, is an elementary school educator and shares her expertise as she helps facilitate school tours on the farm.

Dave farmed conventional corn, soybeans, wheat and oats in the early 1980s, but began to transition to synthetic-chemical free practices in 1985. During the drought of 1988, Bishop observed that chemical-free crops did significantly better than the conventional crops because he believed the soil held more water and the plants were less stressed. At that time, he began transforming more of his fields, becoming a certified organic farm in 2004.

PrairiErth Farm now produces and markets a wide range of crops and livestock, including organic corn, soybeans, wheat, livestock forages, vegetables, fruit, honey and organic beef, pork and eggs. Last year, Dave raised an heirloom variety of wheat, Turkey Red, which is being ground into flour at The Mill at Janie's Farm in Ashkum. This range of crops, and the link to other local businesses, illustrate the farm's dedication to "diversity, soil health, and lasting relationships with our community."

Dave is president of the Illinois Local Foods, Farms and Jobs Council. Hans has been a mentor to new organic farmers through the MOSES Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program, and serves on the advisory board for the Downtown Bloomington Farmers' Market and Artist Alley.

Over the years, the Bishop family has been involved in many educational events and projects, including The Land Connection, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, and the University of Illinois. One of the current research projects with the U of I involves the impact of various cover crop mixtures on weed suppression, soil microbial activity and field production.

The Bishop family views organic farming and diverse enterprises as the best way to enhance soil and the farm's viability in the long term. "Organic farming is a way to limit our ecological footprint by caring for the earth, not just for us, but for future generations," said Dave Bishop.

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