CHICAGO – First Lady Patti Blagojevich today addressed Illinois farmers and consumers at the 2nd Annual FamilyFarmed.org EXPO, to raise awareness of the economic, environmental and health benefits of local organic farming. Organic foods, typically produced by local family farms, are one of the fastest growing sectors of agriculture in the United States.
“Organic farming is an environmentally friendly method of producing numerous crops, necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet, ” First Lady Patti Blagojevich said at the event held in the Chicago Cultural Center. “As local family farms expand into this growing industry, I am proud to support their efforts and to encourage them to continue pushing Illinois forward in agricultural innovation.”
Organic farming relies on the maintenance of natural habitats without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Numerous agricultural products are produced organically, including produce, grains, meat, dairy, eggs, fibers such as cotton, flowers, and processed food products. Organic farming in Illinois is an under-developed industry. FamilyFarmed.org reports that though retail sales of organic food ranges from $502 to $628 million in Illinois, more than 95% of these sales are through California, Mexico and other distant locations. The 2002 Census of Agriculture reports a total of 97 farms in Illinois that produce certified organic crops.
“The FamilyFarmed.org EXPO is the place in Illinois for people to connect with their farmers. This is a booming business and we are excited to create opportunities for locally grown and family farmed foods,” said Jim Slama, President of Sustain and Founder of FamilyFarmed.org.
Founded in 2004, FamilyFarmed.org is a subdivision of Sustain, a national non-profit environmental advocacy organization. Focusing primarily on Midwest markets, FamilyFarmed.org supports organic family farms in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, by connecting them with consumers and commercial buyers through their website, food label, and annual EXPO.
Through the Governor’s Opportunity Returns economic development initiative and the Department of Agriculture’s AgriFIRST grant program, the state has provided nearly $130,000 in funding for three organic focused projects.
The first project supported the creation of an organic meat processing facility. Last year funds were granted to the Land Connection. The organization utilized grant funds to help open the first organic meat processing facility in the state, housed in Eureka. This plan would be a model for pursuing similar facilities across the state in the near future.
The second grant allowed Sustain to conduct a feasibility study to assess the current market for locally grown organic food, current and potential providers and processors of organic foods and determine the infrastructure necessary to support the growth and maintenance of an Illinois-based distribution system.
The third project receiving AgriFIRST funding is Clarkson Grain. Clarkson received money to conduct a feasibility study and market research for the use of organic soy ingredients by the food processing industry. Clarkson Grain contracts with farmers in 20 states to produce grains and oilseeds including organic grains for the food and feed industries.