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.
The Community Farmers Market weathered some big changes during the summer season this year. We moved the market to a new location on 200 N. Washington Street in Downtown Carbondale at new time, Wednesdays 3-6 pm. We decided that it was time to put all of our effort into building a complementary weekday market and did not operate an outdoor Saturday market at the Carbondale Community High School. This move allowed us to increase our vendor diversity - we had 19 vendors at our largest market of the season! - and to offer a wider array of products including pasture raised pork and eggs, grass-fed beef, prepared foods, baked goods, and even locally made soda from Scratch. The new location was close to supportive downtown businesses like Town Square Market and Longbranch who both buy and sell at the market. A vibrant community garden adjacent to the market gave customers and vendors a welcoming place to walk and see food growing .
We are grateful to our sponsor and neighbor WDBX Community Radio for helping us coordinate live music every week at the market, and for helping to promote the market on their station. The City of Carbondale has been very accommodating in our use of the space. They even made us a new sign board to display our market hours!
All were taken by Katherine Accettura at the April 27th and May 4th markets.
Despite the positive factors it’s been a challenging inaugural season in the new location. We battled rain and excessive heat all summer. Three violent thunderstorms forced us to closed market early and destroyed several vendors’ tents. When it wasn’t raining, it was very hot and steamy with heat indexes often reading over 100 degrees with 80% humidity. Very sticky! The weather challenged both customers, who struggle to make it to the market, and produce vendors who encountered standing water, pests, and weeds in the fields. Fingers crossed for cooler weather for our fall markets!
Despite a challenging season, our Double Up Food Bucks program has been an overwhelming success. We received funding through the Jackson County Plan4Health Initiative to offer Double Up Food Bucks at the Downtown Community Farmers Market for the 28-week market season. We have thus far served 61 new customers, and have doubled over $1,300 in SNAP benefits at the market. Customers are happy to stretch their limited food budget and to get healthy local produce using their SNAP benefits. We also had three groups of employees from Southern Illinois Healthcare tour the market with their wellness coaches to learn about shopping for healthy foods at farmers’ markets. There’s nothing more satisfying than introducing new customers to the market!
We are currently working with both local and state organizations to expand Double Up Food Bucks to more markets in southern Illinois in 2017. We plan to help get 4-6 new markets accepting SNAP by 2017, and Double Up Food Bucks at 1-2 new markets before the end of 2016.
by Reanna Putnam
Farmers Market Program Manager
Twelve farmers, ranchers and community members from around the region attended the Food Hub Roundtable Discussion. The goal of the event was to get people on the same page about food hub functions and organizational structures and to begin working towards a model for southern Illinois. The presentation was centered around the following article.
The event included an activity that helped us explore resources, stakeholders, and start thinking about the tasks that would be handled by a food hub. The activity revealed that there is a great deal of existing cold storage infrastructure, community support for local food, and many small sustainable farmers in the region interested in accessing larger markets. Some of the biggest challenges identified were in selecting a decision making/organizational structure for the group and finding and compensating a manager or coordinator for the food hub.
Next steps. There was some interest in beginning to draft by-laws and solidify an organizational structure for a southern Illinois food hub expressed in evaluations of the March roundtable. Rather than getting bogged down trying to draft something from scratch, it might be beneficial to go point by point through the Legacy of the Land by-laws and use that as a jump off point to develop a set for our group. (Drafts of those documents can be made available by request.) If there is interest, we would like to hold another roundtable type event to discuss these by-laws and start working towards an organizational structure for a food hub in southern Illinois on April 17th at 3pm at Owl Creek Vineyard. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in being a part of this event.