Professors Beyond the Classroom: Dr. Tiffany Kriner

Associate Professor of English Dr. Kriner’s literature-inspired farm is one of the many ways that she gives back to her communities and revels in the beauty of God’s creation.

Words: Cassidy Keenan ’21
Photos: Josh and Alexa Adams

Wheaton College IL English professor Dr. Tiffany Kriner sitting on the stoop of her farmhouse with a spotted dog

Dr. Tiffany Kriner’s literary background inspired the name of her and her husband’s farm, Root and Sky.

The name comes from a passage sung by the chorus in The Boy With a Cart, a saint’s play by Christopher Fry that Dr. Kriner participated in when she was still in college. “The part that really got me was this,” said Dr. Kriner. “It had these farmers sort of saying, ‘We work with God shoulder to shoulder. God’s the one who provides, and we sow and we prune and we divide and we try to notice what God is doing in the world.’” The play’s direct quote describes “sky and root in joint action,” which reflected the ethic of the farm.

When Dr. Kriner and her husband first moved to Wheaton, they had a conviction to become involved with the food industry in a way that was ethical, healthy, and beneficial. After experimenting with several different internships, Dr. Kriner’s husband joined the University of Illinois Extension’s program for new agriculture enthusiasts called “Farm Beginnings,” which planted the seed for Root and Sky. In March of 2017, Dr. Kriner and her husband moved to a historic house in Marengo, Illinois that came with about 63 acres of land. The house had been owned by the famous 19th-century beekeeper C.C. Miller, and after several months of love and repair, Dr. Kriner began to settle into the home that the family still owns today.

Beginning with one small cohort of eight pigs, the Kriners slowly began to expand the farm by bringing in new varieties of fauna and flora. Today, she and her family raise pigs, sheep, cows, chickens, and ducks. They also make a concentrated effort to maintain the delicate ecosystem of the forest while removing invasive species like honeysuckle and black walnut to make room for oak trees.

Most recently, Dr. Kriner and her husband—along with the help of many volunteers—planted a permaculture orchard, or a wide selection of fruit trees and bushes to avoid monoculture, where only one type of plant is grown across wide swaths of land. The varieties include apples, pears, plums, paw paws, and more. With all the produce they grow and the animals they raise, Dr. Kriner and her husband have an active and enthusiastic clientele between other farmers in their network, their delivery system, and their colleagues at Wheaton. Yet the farm remains far more than a business venture. Dr. Kriner strives to prioritize serving others through her work, viewing the land as an avenue to feed people in ways that are ethical for both animals and the environment.

The farm is truly a labor of love, and it is no easy task. From digging trenches and spending hours moving groups of animals through the forest, to transporting fertilizer and grazing the land, the efforts required to maintain a farm are seemingly endless. However, Dr. Kriner is quick to confirm that all the farm-related charm you see in the media is really true.

“Birdsong is a huge part of my life,” she said. “And I get to be up close and personal, name-familiar with the sheep that we have. I get to see birth. I have to dig graves every once in a while. But it truly is a remarkable way to live.”

Dr. Kriner’s forthcoming back on this very subject, In Thought, Word, and Seed: Reckonings from a Midwest Farm, will be published in September 2023 through Eerdmans. Part literary criticism, part theology, and part farm memoir, Dr. Kriner is enthusiastic about merging her vocations through writing, and it promises to be an excellent read.

Wheaton College IL English professor Dr. Tiffany Kriner leading sheep to a blue roofed barn at Root and Sky Farm