Illinois Farmers Receive New Guidebook and Online Tool to Improve Local Food System
January 18, 2012 | Jessica Vernabe
Illinois farmers will now have access to a new guidebook and Web site designed to boost local food hub activity in the state, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) announced.
Warren Ribley, the department’s director, announced the new tools at the annual Illinois Specialty Growers Association conference in Springfield, where he highlighted the state’s efforts to increase local foods markets.
“More people today want to know where their food comes from. Making food grown and produced in Illinois more accessible helps Illinois residents eat locally and helps boost our economy,” Ribley said. “The tools we’re introducing today are a step toward building an expanded, locally produced food supply that benefits more people in Illinois.”
The DCEO said the lack of a food hub network in Illinois has served as a barrier to increasing markets for small farmers. It defines food hubs as “processing and distribution centers where independent, local farmers can market their products to larger entities like schools and government agencies.”
DCEO, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, FamilyFarmed.org and the University of Illinois’ Business Innovation Services have teamed up to help solve the problem—they created the guidebook, “Building Successful Food Hubs: A Business Planning Guide for Aggregating and Processing Local Food in Illinois.” The guide was written for communities, businesses, not-for-profits and others interested in forming food hubs. The DCEO said it includes “descriptions of key functions, best practices and ‘how-to’ strategies for establishing and operating food hubs that are based on successful food hubs operating in other regions, specifically adapted for application in Illinois’ food system.’”
Farmers will also be able to use a new Web site, http://isupply.illinois.edu/, to navigate larger market channels, which usually have complex regulatory requirements, Ribley announced. Alternative markets channels include those associated with retail, restaurants, institutions, wholesale, processing and direct sales. Through the Web site, producers can directly access entities interested in purchasing their products, market requirements and resources, and regulatory requirements, among other things.
Other early food Illinois food hub projects the DCEO has invested in include Edible Economy in Bloomington-Normal, which received funds for a strategic plan to create a food hub. The goal is for the food hub to help provide local foods for students at Illinois State University. Funds were also given to food hub that had plans to be staff by workers at the Tazewell County Resource Center in Pekin, the DCEO said.
“The demand for local supply in Illinois far exceeds supply, and food hubs are an excellent way to aggregate product and sell to wholesale buyers,” said Jim Slama, president of FamilyFarmed.org. “This guide is a resource for prospective food hub operators and we are pleased to make it available.”