Local Food Summit 2014 - U of I Extension

News Release

Local Food Summit 2014

This article was originally published on January 6, 2015 and expired on April 6, 2015. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.

Local and Regional Food Summit


Local farmers, food buyers and educators shared ideas and made connections at the recent 2014 Local and Regional Food Summit hosted by Illinois Farm Bureau and Heartland Community College. University of Illinois Extension Educator, Kelly Allsup states “Because of changing attitudes about nutrition and food, America’s loyalty to support local farmers, and the need to be more sustainable considering gas prices and droughts in the state of California, the overall theme of the summit was optimism for the local Illinois food producers.” According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, over a third of the country’s vegetables and nearly two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts were produced in California. “However, this number may decrease with the growing availability of local resources from right here in Illinois,” states Allsup.


One of the summit’s take-home messages included the growing need and want for healthy foods for our well-being. With increased research in food choices combatting illnesses, we are still learning to include nutrient rich foods like tomatoes, kale, broccoli, garlic and apples in our diet. In the summer of 2013, University of Illinois studies found celery, artichokes, and herbs, especially Mexican oregano all contain apigenin and luteolin flavonoids- killing human pancreatic cancer cells in the lab.

Allsup believes that the current generations of parents have had their fill of processed foods like macaroni and cheese and fish sticks. Parents want to not only feed their children healthy fresh fruits and vegetables but also have the desire to connect their children to the sources of their food and the land.

The 2014 Fresh Trend Survey reported that 61% of consumers felt it was important to support local food efforts in their community. Of the top ten food trends ranked in the National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot in 2014” chef survey, four touched on local sourcing — local meats, local produce, farm/estate branding to promote local purchasing. To sum it up, diners increasingly want to know where their food came from, and are seeking out local foods. The restaurants are listening.

At a recent program hosted by University of Illinois Extension, Eureka College students overwhelmingly said they would support using local ingredients like herbs, arugula, and squash on their pizza, proving this idea transcends generations.

Marketing to that 61% of consumers who feel it is important to support local farmers proved to be a large portion of the summit.

Cynthia Haskins of the Illinois Department of Agriculture referred to these local fruit and vegetable farmers as “local celebrities” and highlighted a program specifically designed to market local produce at grocery stores in Illinois. The Illinois ”Where Fresh Is” logo program is made available by the Illinois Department of Agriculture in cooperation with the Illinois Specialty Growers Association for producers and retailers to use as a tool to help promote Illinois grown produce, fruits and other agricultural commodities.

Some grocery store chains like Roundy’s supermarkets of Michigan said they experienced increased sales and loyalty when they informed consumers who grew those great tasting garden tomatoes. 

Another program highlighted at the summit was The Homegrown by Heroes program from Kentucky. This program gives resources to veterans as part of the GI Bill to start up farms and supply these local needs.  Homegrown by Heroes is a marketing and branding program that provides farmer-veterans a label to affix at point of sale, letting the consumer know that the farmer served our country. The program has expanded into Illinois.

The “Preparing a New Generation of Illinois Fruit and Vegetable Farmers” is an educational program offered by University of Illinois. It is designed to provide Illinois farmers the growing and business skills needed to break into the fruit and vegetable industry.

“With the recent droughts in California, the need to be sustainable can open up an economic opportunity for the State of Illinois to start producing more of their own food. With ideal soils, the hardworking ethic of an Illinois farmer, and not being limited by water, Illinois can become greater producers of vegetables and fruits.” says Allsup.

Ronald Duncan, Community and Economic Educator for University of Illinois Extension in Vienna says, “If Illinoisans would spend just $5 a week on local food, the local economy would not only be stimulated but it would also combat one of  Southern Illinoisan’s largest social issues; eating healthy to prevent disease.”

Other issues facing small growers like packaging for retail grocery, establishing a food hub (like the Food Coop in Urbana), growers need for processing, communication between buyers and growers and the need to be GAPS certified were also discussed. GAPS (Good Agriculture Practices) certification is important to train growers and workers on proper food handling.

“With many organizations trying to assist local farmers, change attitudes about food and health, and promote  buying local products, Illinois can become the state of diversified farmers it was in the past.” says Allsup.


Source: Kelly Allsup, Extension Educator, Horticulture, kallsup@illinois.edu

Pull date: April 6, 2015