Extension Educator, Horticulture
Take a good look at a peach from a can and a fresh peach. Just like looking at a caterpillar and a butterfly, it's hard to believe a canned peach and a fresh peach are the same beast. They don't look the same or, in the case of the peaches, taste the same. Canned foods have their place in importance, but fresh and local is good for you and your community. But if you aren't into growing your own produce, then local farmers' markets and produce farms are the next best thing.
Locally produced food is fresher and more nutritious. Food that ends up in grocery stores is often picked before it's ripe, then shipped long distances. Did you know that head of lettuce in your refrigerator probably saw more of the world than you did this year? In addition to the increased freshness, local farmers can offer varieties chosen for their flavor, not just how well they ship.
Buying local keeps your dollars local. When you buy directly from the farmer, they get 100 percent of what you spend. In the grocery store the farmer gets approximately 7 to 25 cents of the dollar. Buying local means the farmer has money to spend locally and the cycle strengthens your community and local economy.
Buying local means supporting small scale and diversified farms. According to "Farm Direct," Illinois has lost more than 30 percent of its small farms in the last 15 years.
Buying local also means less air pollution and wasteful packaging since it's not shipped long distances.
I just like the look and feel of farmers' markets. You get to talk to the people who grew the food. You can get to know them and their kids. Many markets also include baked goods, crafts and plants for sale.
We are lucky to have many farmers' markets and produce farms in the area. Check with your local Chamber of Commerce or check out our Urban Extension Illinois Fresh website for a farm near you.
Also a new publication is available called "Farm Direct - The Central Illinois Farmer-to-Consumer Directory of Locally Produced and Locally Sold Foods." For a copy check with your local Extension office or http://www.aces.uiuc.edu/asap
Here are just a few of the local farmers' markets:
Champaign Farmer's Market
Wednesdays through November, 7am-1pm, Country Fair Shopping Center.
Danville Farmer's Market
Wednesdays and Saturdays through October 4 from 6am to sell out. Kresge Lot, North of Vermilion County Courthouse.
First Market in Mahomet on Main
Wednesdays through September from 3-6pm.
Gibson City Farmers' Market
Saturdays 7 am to sell out. city hall parking lot.
Monticello Main Street Farmers Market
Thursdays through October 9 from 3-6pm in front of Allerton Public Library.
Urbana's Market at the Square
Saturdays through November 15 from 7am to noon at Lincoln Square Mall parking lot.
Paxton Farmers Market
Saturdays through October 7am to noon North Market Street.
Rantoul Chamber of Commerce Farmers Market
Fridays through October 7am to 1pm Parking Lot of Country Tyme Lanes on RT 136.
You can also celebrate International Kitchen Garden Day on August 24. The annual event is being coordinated by Kitchen Gardeners International www.kitchengardeners.org, a new international non-profit group that seeks to promote closer connections between people, their food, the land, and each other. On August 24, food-lovers from around the world are encouraged to gather in their gardens and kitchens with friends, family, and community members to celebrate the positive role of home-grown, home-cooked food in society, health and good eating.