Nine months ago we started a year long journey to inspire our farmer community about cooperative farming projects and food hubs. In January we hosted Amy Randazzo of Legacy of the Land llc. in Bloomington, IL at our Farming Alliance Annual Gathering at the Old Feed Store. She gave us background on her farm and how Legacy of the Land LLC has helped her farm business grow. Read more about how Legacy of the Land operates on their website.
We loved this model, but knew that there were others out there that and that should be explored. We hosted three events at John A. Logan College where we showed food hub webinars previously recorded by the Wallace Center and brought in a speaker from another regional food hub. In March we hosted a roundtable discussion about food hubs and talked about the different models and resources that we needed to cultivate in order to get one off the ground. One of the key themes that emerged that night was the need for a solid foundation that clearly outlines how decisions are made, product standards, and policies. In June we met to go point by point through the Legacy of the Land bylaws shared with us by Amy Randazzo. Twelve farms were present at this June meeting, and all felt confident that the by-laws outlined by Legacy of the Land would be appropriate with minimal revisions moving forward with a multi-farm LLC for southern Illinois.
We met twice in August to talk next steps moving forward with adapting the Legacy of the Land model for southern Illinois. At our meeting on August 2nd we discussed the need for member recruitment and drafted ideas for a name. The name that everyone gravitated towards was L.E.A.F. or Little Egypt Alliance of Farmers. On August 29th we met again to discuss how member recruitment was going and to talk about potential marketing strategies. At this meeting, the group emphasized wanting to work on building relationships with restaurants and small grocers like Carbondale’s Neighborhood Grocery Co-op and Town Square market and to begin explore a meal kit style CSA.
We currently have 3-5 farms moving forward with this vision and are looking for more producers to join us! If you have any interest in being a founding member in this new venture, please join us at the next meeting on Monday September 19th, at 6pm, at the Old Train Depot in Carbondale. At this meeting we will introduce prospective members to our vision and to continue our conversation about marketing strategies and needs. Our plan is to have membership finalized by the October 24th meeting so we can move forward with crop planning for the 2017 season in November.
We are happy our Farming Alliance members are such good cooks, because we love to eat! The monthly Farming Alliance field day potlucks are simply spectacular. There was the un-planned bean themed potluck during the CoolBot Field Day in April, and a delicious spread at the Summer Social at Scratch that donned not one, but two batches of fresh-from-the-goat chevre. Know your farmer, know your food gets taken to a new level when you know the name of the goat that produced the milk for your cheese!
Southern Illinois Farming Alliance monthly field days are a great opportunity to learn about our member farms and to enjoy farm fresh food with the people who grew it. In March we toured the productive sugarbush at Principia College near Elsah to learn about the production of maple syrup in southern climates. We learned about the unique challenges of the freeze thaw patterns in southern Illinois that prevent big sap runs like they get in cooler climates. Though producing maple in areas with warmer winters is less productive, we are learning valuable lessons that will help prepare northern maple producers for the warmer winters we have been experiencing as a nation with global warming.
We toured Countrysprout Organic in April and learned how a low-cost walk-in cooler made using Coolbot technology can impact your farms productive capacity. Being able to properly cool vegetables fresh from the field can greatly extend their shelf life allowing you to stretch your harvests across multiple markets. In May, we visited Backacher’s Farm and learned a bit about berries and a bit about mulching. Heavy mulching can dramatically change the character of your soil by adding back in necessary carbon, all while suppressing weeds. It’s a win-win for the farmer, especially if they’re also in the hay business like our host Phil Mendenhall is.
Our permaculture field day scheduled for June got pushed back until July 11th. This was our most well attended field day of the year with 15 people making the trek down south of Tamms to Jim and Mary Maginel’s Organic Energy Works farm. Jim and Mary have thoughtfully built up a linear food forest along their lane that is easy to monitor on their evening walks. Keeping a close eye on fruits and nuts as they ripen is one way to ensure that you get to enjoy the harvest before the wildlife digs in! We enjoyed seeing their multi-species livestock in the silvapasture as the wooded hills are integrated into their farm and homestead.