SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) Director Warren Ribley this morning addressed the annual Illinois Specialty Growers Association conference in Springfield. At the conference, Dir. Ribley highlighted ways the state is working to increase markets for local foods.
“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,” said Director Ribley. “The tools we’re introducing today are a step toward building an expanded, locally-produced food supply that benefits more people in Illinois.”
Food hubs are processing and distribution centers where independent, local farmers can market their products to larger entities like schools and government agencies, making locally-grown food more widely available. The lack of a food hub network in Illinois has been a barrier to increasing markets for small farmers.
To help meet the demand, DCEO has partnered with the Illinois Department of Agriculture, FamilyFarmed.org and the University of Illinois’ Business Innovation Services to create the guidebook, “Building Successful Food Hubs: A Business Planning Guide for Aggregating and Processing Local Food in Illinois.”
The guide serves as a resource for communities, businesses, not-for-profits and others interested in establishing food hubs. The guide 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.
“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,” says Jim Slama, president of FamilyFarmed.org. “This guide is a resource for prospective food hub operators and we are pleased to make it available.”
DCEO has also invested in several early food hub projects around the state. Edible Economy in Bloomington-Normal has received funds for a strategic plan that will create a food hub to help provide local foods for students at Illinois State University; as has a food hub intended to be staffed by workers at the Tazewell County Resource Center in Pekin.
Director Ribley also announced a new website to help farmers navigate larger market channels which often have complex regulatory requirements. When farmers are ready to explore alternative market channels associated with retail, restaurants, institutions, wholesale, processing, and direct sales, they can find helpful information at http://isupply.illinois.edu/. The site connects producers of a wide range of food products directly to market requirements and resources, as well as entities that may already have an interest in purchasing their products. Additionally, the site provides links to relevant regulatory requirements and other important resources associated with various products and market channels.
The guidebook is available to download for free at www.FamilyFarmed.org.
Through DCEO, the state has been focusing investments on developing and expanding high-growth sectors like agriculture, including training Illinois workers in these 21st century occupations, promotion of local foods, expanding local supply chains to alleviate food desserts and infrastructure investments to quicken the innovation in these sectors.