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At Pink Tiger Farm, Chicago Couple Lives Out Gardening Dreams In Southern Illinois

Kyle McAdams and Brian Elias moved to downstate Goreville last year to live out a new life as farmers.

Brian Elias saved the dried flower petals from his wedding engagement and sprinkled them over the hazelnut field.
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CHICAGO — Kyle McAdams and Brian Elias grew plants on their balcony in Wicker Park and had a garden when they lived in Portage Park. But nothing could have prepared the husbands for starting a full-fledged farm Downstate.

McAdams and Elias moved to Goreville — a town in Southern Illinois with a population of about 1,000 — in April 2021 to pursue their longterm plan of opening a farm. They bought a 10-acre plot, named it Pink Tiger Farm and immediately got to work building the operation.

Elias came up with Pink Tiger Farm’s name because his dad always called him “tiger” and the color pink is a nod to them being a gay couple, he said.

“Always thought it’d be awesome to have a bright pink tiger on a rural farm sign and here we are,” Elias said.

Before opening the farm, Elias worked operations for Chicago’s Green City Market and McAdams worked as a ticket broker.

Their new home was a working farm until about 80 years ago, but the property had long been neglected and lacked the infrastructure for a modern-day operation, McAdams and Elias said. The couple had to install a well, set up an irrigation system and do a gut rehab of their house.

“We found an old, busted piece of land with an old, busted house and are starting from scratch,” Elias said.

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Kyle McAdam and Brian Elias’s house sits on a 10-acre plot.
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Brian Elias and Kyle McAdams have two dogs named Gracie and Pajamas.

‘A steep learning curve’

Getting Pink Tiger Farm off the ground has been “challenging, hectic and stressful” with “a steep learning curve,” Elias said.

“It’s a lot of realizing you’ve done something wrong and figuring out how to correct it,” Elias said. “It’s facing daily adversity and trying to figure things out.”

After the couple built a raised bed and planted 830 peppers, they accidentally bought the wrong size of fabric to put over the plants that would help them grow healthily, Elias said.

“Then it got windy, and because we prepared it the wrong way, the fabric blew off and we had to go out there and fix it again,” Elias said. “It’s this constant battle of things like that while also fighting weather, rodents, deer and your own poor planning.”

In September, Pink Tiger Farm was accepted with a scholarship into the Southern Illinois Farm Beginnings class, a year-long program with more than 50 seminars on business, farming and marketing skills, McAdams said.

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Brian Elias and Kyle McAdams created raised beds that they planted their peppers in.

As they navigate through trial and error, the program has helped the couple connect with other starting farmers who have helped them learn the basics of farm planning and offered help in moments of crisis, McAdams said.

That support system came through when McAdams and Elias were planting a hazelnut orchard, Elias said. The couple tilled the land and planted 120 hazelnut trees, but learned that they improperly timed a soil preparation technique, which caused the field to flood.

McAdams and Elias had to pull every tree out of the ground the next day and plant them in a raised bed, Elias said. In the fall, they’ll have to dig up the ground and replant the trees.

“In that moment, it felt like everything was falling apart,” Elias said. “But we were able to call our good friends at two other farms and they all hopped in to help us, whether that was through moral or technical support.”

Despite the crises, the couple has planted a variety of crops, including chilis, herbs, cumin, cilantro, dill, heritage peppers, ginger, figs and turmeric, Elias said. When they harvest in the fall, they plan to jar their products and sell them at farmers markets across the state, including in Chicago.

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Brian Elias and Kyle McAdams pose with class members in the Southern Illinois Farm Beginnings program.

After finding community among fellow farmers, McAdams and Elias said they also hope to foster connections with other LGBTQ people.

McAdams and Elias said they weren’t sure what to expect moving to a rural, red county in Southern Illinois. The couple started dating 12 years ago and married in 2014 just as same-sex marriage was legalized in Illinois.

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Kyle McAdams (left) and Brian Elias got married in 2014 in Minneapolis.

Some interactions have ranged from awkward to outwardly bigoted.

In one instance, the couple went to buy a tractor and the store employee described their farm’s previous owner — also a gay man — as “different.”

A contractor told them their marriage was “against nature” while some people have openly used homophobic and racist slurs in front of them, thinking “we’re one of the boys,” Elias said.

Those encounters have been rare, and the fellowship they’ve found among other farmers and neighbors has made the gamble worth it, they said. But as they continue to grow their farm, Elias said the couple hopes to use their reach downstate to create new opportunities for LGBTQ youth.

“We really want to focus on helping the LGBTQ youth down here because there’s no outlet for them like in Chicago,” Elias said. “There’s no Center on Halsted or a Halsted, period. We believe we have an obligation to help our community here.”

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Brian Elias of Pink Tiger Farm drives a tractor.
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Kyle McAdams prepares the farm’s hazelnut field.
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Kyle McAdams (pictured) and Brian Elias built a grow room in their basement to start their pepper plants.

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.

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Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation. 

Thanks for subscribing to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods. Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.

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