BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Surrounded by rows of colorful, locally sourced fruits and vegetables, 25 farmers from rural Illinois met at Sugar Beet Food Co-op in Chicago for the first of two stops on a farm-to-fork tour.
The Taste of Illinois on Location event took place on the Saturday of Illinois Farm Bureau’s (IFB) Annual Meeting, Dec. 4-7, replacing a traditional dinner held in years past. Attendees learned about food access in the city and how urban farms and businesses are addressing the issue.
Oak Park’s Sugar Beet Food Co-op was founded in 2012 by area residents who needed a source of sustainably grown, healthy food in their neighborhood. The food hub’s grocery store opened in 2016 and sources products from farmers and distributors within 250 miles of the store.
The cooperative is owned by 2,400-plus owner members, whose opinions dictate the types of food and products carried by the store. Forty staffers manage produce, meat, prepackaged food and other departments, as well as an on-site café.
Cost-sharing across departments and grocery aisles absorb premium prices on certain products to lower the overall cost to shoppers. The store also offers a food access program called Food For All and matches Link program purchases dollar-for-dollar up to $25 per purchase.
“We have a lot of people to feed and only so many grocery stores that are owned by a few corporations,” said Milkovich. “There’s a great chance to set a standard of what people really want in a grocery store and (show them) that they can be involved in the process.”
Herban Produce, located on the west side of Chicago, also focuses on creating food access opportunities.
The urban farm grows 50 vegetable varieties in a hydroponic greenhouse and on raised garden beds on two acres of land, which is sold directly to consumers and restaurants in the area.
In addition to offering a weekly consumer supported agriculture (CSA) subscription to nearby residents, urban gardening classes on the farm teach people how to grow plants in places like windowsills and patios. The business also partners with local organizations to teach kids and young adults about farming.
“It’s an eye-opening experience for a lot of the youth because they’re exposed to agriculture right in their city,” said Alicia Nesbary-Moore, co-owner and operator of the farm. “They’re amazed that they’re able to farm right in the middle of the city.”
Raghela Scavuzzo, IFB’s associate director of food systems development said the tour demonstrated the need for agriculture across the state, as well as the importance of educating the public about where food comes from.
“Illinois Farm Bureau was thrilled to coordinate an event like this to allow members to connect from across the state,” said Scavuzzo. “Sharing personal stories from attendees and businesses showed how both rural and urban communities face similar challenges and successes including sadly food access. What is inspiring to hear is that farming is farming no matter the location. Opportunities like farm-to-fork tours highlight that food connects us all and no matter where we are geographically, as a community, we can make a difference.”
The Illinois Farm Bureau is a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation, a national organization of farmers and ranchers. Founded in 1916, IFB is a non-profit, membership organization directed by farmers who join through their county Farm Bureau. IFB has a total membership of more than 372,326 and a voting membership of 77,462. IFB represents three out of four Illinois farmers.
— Illinois Farm Bureau