After receiving her bachelor's degree in Social Development Studies at the University of Waterloo in 1999, Angie Koch sought a different career path. Despite not having any experience in the field, she decided to become a farmer. In 2008, Angie founded Fertile Ground Farm, a local organization that aimed to give its customers the “freshest, highest-quality produce” that they could grow. Getting her hands caked with dirt was Angie’s way of giving back and making her mark in the Waterloo Region. “What surprised me was that producing food at a smaller scale and using ecological methods to sell directly to customers felt like community service,” said Angie when asked about the transition to becoming a farmer. “To me, it felt like a continuation of my community development skills that I had developed at Grebel.” 

“Angie’s work at Fertile Ground Farm is inspiring on so many levels” said Michael Shum, Chair of Grebel’s Alumni Committee. “Producing high quality food locally and sustainably is one way to help reduce food insecurity in Canadian communities, while also prioritizing the continuing health of the environment. Angie also ensures that her employees are paid a living wage. On behalf of Grebel,” Michael added, “we'd like to thank Angie for her work in giving the people of Waterloo Region a local and sustainable food option, while looking after the welfare of her employees and the environment!” 

Angie’s courageous business venture has continued to prove its worth. Fertile Ground Farm has grown alongside its patrons, as the local organization now provides food to more than 300 Waterloo Region households every week for 26 weeks of the year (June-December). It follows a Community Supported Agriculture model (CSA) where patrons pay for a subscription and receive an assortment of hand-picked vegetables weekly that vary depending on which produce is in season. Not only does this model ensure that Fertile Ground has a stable, predictable source of income, but it also establishes a bond between Angie and her local community. “One of the things I love is when patrons refer to Fertile Ground, they call it our farm,” said Angie. “There is a sense of ownership and community. That bond is economic, social, and educational.” 

Angie attributes many of the founding pillars of Fertile Ground to her experience living at Grebel. “Grebel helped me explore a sense of stewardship and community service. As someone who wants to give back, doing community work while at Grebel was something I discovered to be very meaningful. Grebel ingrained in me the idea of work being a vocation. It taught me to not just treat work as a paid pursuit, but something meaningful that would involve me in the community to create positive change.”

Angie holding a cat

Angie found her time as a Chapel Convener at Grebel to be particularly impactful. “We had a very diverse group of people of different faiths, which inevitably created some challenges. This gave me experience with how to navigate difficult conversations with respectfulness and trust. In my business, where the product is so direct with my customers, that trust is very important. My years at Grebel helped me understand how to develop a bond of respect, even if we don’t agree on everything.”  

Angie also noted that Fertile Ground Farm wouldn’t be possible without the support of her local community. “When I started Fertile Ground, it was those same friends that I made at Grebel who first bought CSA shares, invested in the business, and volunteered to help at the farm. I think I really found my people in Grebel who have supported me personally, as well as my business.”  

“When I think of Angie, I think of strong, dirty hands,” said Shauna Leis, member of the Alumni Committee. “Dirt under her fingernails and in the creases of her palms. Angie’s dirty hands speak of justice, gratitude, love, and humility. That passion for learning continues to flourish through her participation in projects like the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario’s Farmer-Led Research Program and the Canadian Organic Vegetable Improvement Project. Through projects like these, Angie continues fueling her farming curiosity and continuously improves how her farm operates and the economic and environmental impact that it has.”  

Angie’s contributions to her community and to climate justice represent the ideals of Grebel and are worthy of recognition. For this reason, Angie has been selected as Grebel’s 2023 Distinguished Alumni Service Award winner. Environment Reps on Student Council are working with the Alumni Committee to plan an event to present Angie with the award to celebrate her connection to the earth and her commitment to environmental sustainability.

By Jiho Mercer