University of Illinois Extension

Ellen Phillips
Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms
Cook County Unit
Enterprise Center
2205 Enterprise Drive, Suite 501
Westchester, IL 60154
Phone: 708-449-4320
FAX: 708-492-1805

As a Local Food and Small Farms Educator, Ellen Phillips' programs have focused on increasing production, marketing, risk management on small farms while encouraging environmental stewardship. Encouraging local food networking she works with producer groups and consumers.

Her areas of expertise include organic production, Good Agricultural Practices (GAPS), large scale and backyard composting, soil management, manure management, small farm crop production and marketing and livestock pasture management and grazing. In this role, she works closely with farmers, agri-business, homeowners and other agencies to identify educational needs, and deliver unbiased research-based information to clientele. Information is shared at crop seminars, in-depth workshops, pasture walks, summer crop and pest management field days and on-farm demonstrations. Working with University specialists, other Extension Educators, and farmer cooperators, she helps conduct research and field demonstrations on manure management, composting, soil quality, specialty crops and pasture management

She holds a B.S. in agronomy with an emphasis on soil fertility from the University of Illinois and a M.S. in soil management from Iowa State University. She is member of the Soil Science Society of America, International Soil Science Society, and American Society of Agronomy.

Previously, she worked as University of Illinois Extension Educator – Crop Systems in NE Illinos. She also served as Soil Specialist with the University of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service where she managed the Soil, Plant and Water Analysis Lab. Working with home and commercial horticultural producers, she focused on the areas of fertilizer plans and organic matter management through composting. She also assisted livestock producers with fertilizer plans and pasture management.

Areas of Expertise

  • Organic Production
  • Composting - backyard and large scale
  • Pasture and Forage Production
  • Rotational Grazing
  • Integrated Pest Management Strategies
  • Pesticide Safety and Education Training

Current Research and Demonstrations

  • Soil Quality Evaluation
  • Produce safety

Program Offerings

Ellen can provide presentations, educational materials or make field visits in the following areas. Most topics can be presented in a variety of formats from field days, presentation or hands-on workshops, from 30 minute to four hour workshops. Audiences might include: adults, youth, small farm producers, horse owners, teachers, students, community groups, or gardeners.

Is Entrepreneurial Farming for You?

As the demand for local, sustainably grown food continues to rise, farmers are working to meet the demand through the creation of small-scale entrepreneurial farm businesses.  To facilitate these new farm businesses and address the needs of a new generation of aspiring entrepreneurial farmers this program is designed to help people who are considering starting a farm and to explore ideas they should think through before starting and managing a farm-based business.  Workshop participants will have the opportunity to meet experienced farmers and to ask questions about different successful farm enterprises.

 Topics covered will include:  resource assessment, goal setting, financial planning & marketing options.


MarketReady is a program designed to help small and mid-sized producers understand the evolving commercial market opportunities for locally produced foods. The curriculum presented introduces a variety of important issues that producers should be aware of as they evaluate the potential opportunities.  The training is based around best business practices identified by from commercial retail, restaurant and institutional buyers that are actively seeking to purchase from local farmers. MarketReady will help farmer selling fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy improve their marketing strategy to succeed.

 Program topics include:

  • Communication/Relationship Building
  • Packaging/Labeling
  • Pricing/Invoicing
  • Supply/Delivery
  • Insurance
  • Certifications & Audits
  • Quality Assurance
  • Marketing


Good Agricultural Practices(GAPs)

Food safety begins on the farm. For fresh fruit and vegetable producers, food safety is particularly important because most of the fresh produce they grow is eaten raw. Recent produce-associated foodborne illness outbreaks have heightened public awareness of produce food safety and increased the demand by fresh produce buyers to have third party auditors verify farm food safety practices. In all produce operations, it is critical to be aware of and implement food safety practices such as Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) so that microbial risks can be minimized. A simple procedure such as hand washing is highly effective at managing pathogens on workers' hands, but many farms do not have a written farm food safety plan or a worker training program in place.

The increasing focus on GAPs and third party audit requirements are being used by the retail and the food service industry to identify growers who have implemented GAPs and have a verified farm food safety plan. This program will provide an overview of GAPs (produce safety issues and impacts), vegetable retailer presentation on concerns about food safety, good handling practices, food defense protocols in the food chain, self-auditing farms for food safety, crisis and risk management, and writing a food safety plan.

Science of Composting Manure

This 3 hour workshop is for Small livestock owners, Horse Owners, and Stable Managers who want more information about:

-  Neighbor friendly manure storage

-  Understanding the science behind composting manure

 - Simple composting techniques at your stable or farm

 - Illinois rules and regulations on manure storage and composting

- Practical strategies to manage manure and understand the fundamentals of composting manure will be shared.

A Season of Horse Pasture Management

Best management practices for horse pastures are presented. Topics include identifying the plants and weeds in pastures, identifying poisonous plants, having the soil analyzed to determine fertilizer needs, and developing a grazing plan.

Hay Quality

This hands-on program discusses physical, chemical and biological properties of hay. Participants receive a checklist to consider when purchasing and storing hay.

Manure Management

Laws, limits and opportunities of managing manure.

Crop Ecology

Sustainable practices such as cover crops, organic matter management, and soil ecology that can be incorporated into production systems.

Best Management Practices: Forages or Pasture

This session focuses on recommended management production and IPM practices for forage crops.

Smart Scouting with IPM

Know before you go. A checklist of things to bring and things to think about before you walk into a field to scout.

Ag Internet Resources

Tour websites that can offer information on best management practices for crop production and marketing.

Soil Basics and Management

For those who have an interest in understanding the "why"behind how soils work, this workshop includes topics such as soil pH, soil water, soil temperature, and soil compaction.

Assessing Soil Quality

A hands-on presentation to evaluate chemical, physical and biological properties of soil and assess management practices to improve the quality of the soil.

Macro and Micro: Plant Nutrients Your Plants Need

What are the essential nutrients plants need and do your plants have enough.

Fertilizers and Amendments

Choosing the best fertilizer or amendment to meet the needs of your soils and plants.


Understanding the difference between active and passive composting can help you successfully compost at home or on your farm.

Living on the Land

The "Living on the Land" series provides current and future land owners with practical information and resources about sustainable small acreage management. Participants develop a plan for their property, and share ideas with a team of expert instructors and other participants. Classes will be taught by University of Illinois Faculty, Extension Educators, local industry experts and agency professionals.


Setting the Stage: Inventorying Resources

Your Living Soil

Managing Your Soils

All Life Depends on Water: Living with streams and ponds

Managing Your Well and Septic System

All Your Plants: Managing Pastures or Lawns and Controlling Those Weeds

Entrepreneurship: So You Want to Make a Buck?

Beginning a Business and Small Acreage owners Panel "What we wish we knew?"

Sustainability: Tying It Together

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