Agriculture heritage group hosts night of innovation

November 14, 2018

DeKALB – An organization known for preserving DeKalb County’s rich agricultural history is aiming to inspire innovation with an annual TED talk-esque event.

More than 120 people attended the third-ever “An Evening with Innovators” event and fundraiser hosted by the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association on Tuesday night at the Egyptian Theatre, 135 N. Second St.

Norm Larson, board president for the heritage association, said this year’s event included attendees such as area farmers, philanthropists and members of the business community, along with students and faculty from Northern Illinois University. He said the college connections to the event are reinforced after NIU recently announced its plans for a $23 million research facility and joining the Illinois Innovation Network in partnership with the University of Illinois system.

“It’s about looking forward,” Larson said. “It’s about who’s going to be the next organization, person, whoever that’s going to be inspired to bring something to our community.”

Guest speakers that were featured at the event included Scott Shearer, department chairman for food, agricultural and biological engineering at Ohio State University; Kimberlee Kidwell, dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at University of Illinois; and Natalie Shmulik, CEO of Chicago food business incubator The Hatchery.

Larson said DAAHA hosting the event is a way to continue to foster collaboration between agricultural staples in the community with students as the future of the industry. He cited an instance when the CEO from MightyVine in Rochelle and Kishwaukee College representatives met at the first “Evening of Innovation” event, which ignited an eventual partnership between the two.

“That’s what we’re about,” Larson said.

Angie Schroeder, an environmental studies major at NIU and Rochelle resident, said she attended the event because she is intrigued by innovative agriculture. She said she is hoping to network with area businesses that could get her better immersed in the field.

Schroeder, 52, said she’s learned in her classes how the general population has been destroying the area’s soil and water.

“I think it’s important that we find different ways to grow our food and feed the world,” Schroeder said.

DeKalb County Chairman Mark Pietrowski Jr. said he’s happy to see the crowd turnout for the event this year. He said the event encapsulates what DeKalb County is all about: agriculture and innovation.

Pietrowski said he hoped people leave the event knowing there’s still so much more innovation happening currently and that it’s not all in the past.

“Our innovation as a county didn’t stop with barbed wire,” Pietrowski said. “It’s continuing on and I’m just so incredibly proud of all of the local innovators that we have in the county that are moving us forward.”

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