News and blog
Growing Together, Inc. (GTI) is a newly formed non-profit based in Galesburg that aims to establish and operate a local agriculture center growing foods by using and teaching sustainable growing methods. The organization is modeling itself after the legendary work of Will Allen and his world-renowned Growing Power out of Milwaukee. Peter Schwartzman, an Illinois Stewardship Alliance board member, is a founding member of GTI, and currently the secretary of its board.
Currently GTI has access to approximately three acres of fertile land in the southeastern section of Galesburg. It is also leasing three rooms in a neighboring building for use in seedling development, vermicomposting, and the building of soil block trays, bird and bat houses, and other growing-related structures. GTI plans to grow more than forty different vegetable species, eight perennial berries and fruit trees, and use the remainder for the development of a handicap accessible herb garden, an edible "weed" garden, a prairie, a children's garden, and even a rooftop garden on one of the concrete roofs nearby. In addition, an aquaponics demonstration station will be established and, ideally, there will be more than a few bees taking residence at the urban site as well (both in humanly built hives as well as in its biologically diverse environs).
And that’s just in the first year.
In its second year of operation GTI aspires to also open operations on a twenty five acres property located about nine miles northeast of Galesburg. On this rural farm, there are plans for many varieties of livestock, a large compost station and a country vegetable store. GTI hopes to lease some of the most fertile land to enterprising Knox County residents who aspire to become small-scale vegetable farmers.
While GTI hopes to grow lots of nutritious, naturally grown food for its neighbors, it’s main thrust is to inject additional energy into the growing local food movement. GTI believes that its efforts can help improve the social, nutritional, education and economic aspects of the Galesburg community. GTI hopes to enhance personal and community self-reliance and do so in a most delicious way.
For more information about GTI, Inc., visit its websitewww.growingtogether.us, its Facebook Page (growingtogetherus), or contact them via email firstname.lastname@example.org. May 2013 be an amazingly bountiful year of growing (together).
Illinois Stewardship Alliance recently hired Jennifer Filipiak as its Conservation Associate. Through this Jen brings 15 years of project management experience in conservation and sustainable agriculture. Jen came to ISA from The Nature Conservancy in Iowa where conservation and agriculture are dependent upon each other. Over the last 5 years, she built the Iowa Chapter's freshwater program by working with farmers, landowners and agency partners on practices that achieve agricultural productivity and freshwater conservation at the watershed scale. Prior to TNC, Jen was a wildlife biologist for the Lake County Forest Preserve District north of Chicago. She has a B.S. in Ecology from Northern Michigan University and a M.S. in Wildlife Ecology from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
Jen is an avid cyclist and backpacker. She also loves to travel, having traveled extensively in Latin America, including a 3 month volunteer position surveying mammals in the Peruvian rainforest. Jen, her husband Pete, and their two dogs, Iggy and Keema, live in Bloomington, where Pete teaches agriculture at Illinois State, and the dogs lay around the couch all day. Jen will provide leadership for our conservation program work, focusing on fostering the adoption of pragmatic, sustainable agricultural practices in all types of farming operations.
In 2011 Rick Davis fell victim to an outdated state law that lumped his small, on-farm composting operation under the same regulatory umbrella as commercial composting companies. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency cited Davis for his operation and forced him to stop his composting system. But thanks to Davis’s tenacity and help from Illinois Stewardship Alliance, the laws could soon be changed to ensure family and urban farmers can compost legally.
In Davis’s case, he began composting in an effort to make his soil healthier and get better yields on his vegetable crops without using synthetic fertilizers.
“I need to transform the natural soil. It’s low in organic matter, high in clay content. Everything takes place in the soil, and it’s been proven and documented that if you have healthy soil the amount of needed synthetic inputs is greatly reduced,” Davis said.
As Davis points out, compost can reduce the need for heavy doses of synthetic fertilizers by adding nutrients to the soil and improving the soils ability to retain nutrients. Beyond helping his soil, Davis was also helping out his local community. He was taking organic waste product from a local seed company and using it in his compost piles. Davis wasn’t selling his compost, simply using it on his farm to enhance his soil.
But all that stopped in April 2011 when it was reported to the IEPA that Davis was composting without a permit. Current Illinois law dictates that no matter the size of an operation, if a composter is bringing material from off site to compost, they must be permitted and regulated.
Faced with no other legal options at the time, Davis stopped taking organic waste, a vital component for composting, from the seed company. Because of the setback, Davis decided to get politically involved. He started doing serious research on the topic of composting laws in Illinois. During that research he found out about Illinois Stewardship Alliance because of the alliance’s connection to the annual central Illinois composting symposium held at Lincoln Land Community College.
Impressed with the alliance’s work on the Cottage Food Law, Davis contacted Wes King, Illinois Stewardship Alliance Interim Executive Director. King told Davis about Local Food Awareness Day, a lobby day the alliance puts on every spring at the Illinois state capitol. King explained how it would be a great opportunity for Davis to voice his problems to the very people that could fix them.
Davis showed up, starting a conversation that continues to this day.
“Lt. Gov. Shelia Simon was there doing a roundtable listening session at the lobby day. Rick voiced his concerns about the topic, and the lieutenant governor was very interested, and so were others at the table, especially people involved with urban agriculture,” King said.
During the Illinois General Assembly’s spring session this year Illinois Stewardship Alliance is spearheading a push to reform the composting laws .
“Right now it’s a one-size-fits-all system, and we’re trying to make it a scale-appropriate system,” King explained.
Davis gave an example of the one-size-fits-all approach that hampers family farmers like him.
“Even if you’re permitted as a composter, you’ve only got 18 months to compost and get rid of it. On a small farm operation that’s not practical. On a small farm you’re going to have a stockpile. You’re going to have a pile that’s in the process of composting, and you’re going to have one that’s ready to use. The longer it sits around, the mellower it becomes, it’s essentially becoming dirt,” Davis said.
Both Davis and King emphasized that the push isn’t about deregulating composting, but rather about smart laws that can help family and urban farms thrive.
“Basic environmental protection laws need to be enforced, and I don’t think anybody would have a problem not placing a composting facility in a drainage way or a waterway where it would cause environmental harm,” Davis said.
Small farmers, returning armed service veterans and disadvantaged producers are eligible for up to $35,000 through a new United States Department of Agriculture microloan program.
The loans are for small purchases, such as seeds, animals, small equipment and other investments that would help young and beginning farmers get their operation off the ground. The loans are being offered through the Farm Service Agency, the USDA’s lending arm, which generally offers much larger loans to producers. Because of the microloans size, the application process has been simplified and streamlined, meaning less paperwork for the applicant.
The microloans are available immediately. For anyone interested, visit THIS LINK to the FSA’s website and contact a local FSA office.
Illinois Stewardship Alliance worked with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to encourage loans such as these to help young and beginning farmers become established. As the average age of farmers in theUnited Statesapproaches 60, young farmers are critical to insuring the agricultural engine of the country continues running.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 4, 2013
Contact: Wes King at (217) 528-1563
Illinois Stewardship Alliance statement on FDA Release of Food Safety Rules
SPRINGFIELD – The Food and Drug Administration released much-anticipated proposed rules detailing standards for produce safety and preventive controls for human food production Friday. The release of the rules is a major step in the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which President Obama signed into law two years ago. The law is the first significant overhaul to our nation’s food safety laws since the 1930s.
“FSMA’s aim is to improve food safety, which is a goal everyone can support, but doing so must be done in a scale and risk appropriate way. Alternatively, a one-size-fits-all approach could put family farms out of business and eliminates opportunities for local and organic food and farm entrepreneurs.” Wes King, policy director for the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, said. “The release of these rules and the subsequent comment period represents an important opportunity for those who are interested in building sustainable, local food systems to voice their opinions about the scope and impact of the proposed rules.”
Congress took several steps to guarantee that small and mid-sized family farms could adhere to new FSMA produce production standards, reporting requirements, and prevention planning requirements without costly new investments.
Specific provisions in FSMA to ensure scale-appropriate regulations include:
- The option for small, mid, and direct-market agricultural operations to comply with equivalent state regulations or modified, scale-appropriate federal regulation.
- Safeguards to ensure that the produce regulations do not undermine beneficial on-farm conservation and wildlife-friendly practices, and do not contradict strict regulations for certified organic production.
- Requiring the FDA to differentiate between low-risk and high-risk farm and food processing activities when writing the regulations
- A priority on streamlining and reducing unnecessary paperwork for farmers and small processors.
- Providing alternative means of tracing food through the supply chain, including an exemption for farm identity-preserved products.
The Illinois Stewardship Alliance is a nonprofit organization that works on issues of sustainable agriculture and local food availability.
Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA) has an opening for a full-time Conservation Associate. The Conservation Associate will provide leadership for Illinois Stewardship Alliance’s conservation program work for working-lands conservation programs and sustainable agriculture practices. Candidate must be able to work with diverse stakeholders and be knowledgeable about agricultural conservation.
ISA is a state-wide non-profit organization that promotes environmentally sustainable, economically viable, socially just local food and farm systems through policy development, advocacy and education.
Specific activities will include (but not be limited to):
- Event coordination; organize logistics for meetings, field days, workshops and other events
- Work with outreach staff to write news releases, op-eds and other media outreach
- Project management; reporting, tracking information
- Communicate with diverse stakeholders to meet project objectives
- Develop cover crop program to increase adoption of cover crop practices in the state
- Build and maintain relationships with conservation partners
- Conduct outreach to increase the use of sustainable agriculture practices
- Conduct outreach to increase enrollment in federal conservation programs
- General support; budgeting and financial data tracking for program work
- Assist with membership outreach and development
- Travel required
KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS & ABILITIES
- Strong knowledge and abilities for project management
- Clear, effective oral and written communication skills
- Knowledge of agricultural conservation practices, including cover crops
- Understanding of federal conservation programs including the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Qualities Incentive Program
- Able to work collaboratively with a wide range of partners under limited supervision
- Strong interpersonal, problem solving, and relationship building abilities
- Hands on, energetic and motivated self-starter
- Proficiency in office software
- Interest in sustainable agriculture, policy, conservation programs and activities
- 3-5 years of experience in a related field
- Background in farming
- Familiarity with rural issues
- Knowledge of the federal policy process
This position will be a fulltime position with a competitive salary in the range of $36,000-$42,000 depending on qualifications. Benefits include health insurance and vacation time.
This position will be based out of Illinois Stewardship Alliance’s office in Springfield, Illinois.
Please email or mail a cover letter and resume to Illinois Stewardship Alliance by January 28th. Mail cover letter and resume to 230 Broadway, Suite 200, Springfield, Illinois 62701 or email to email@example.com.
Illinois Stewardship Alliance prohibits discrimination in its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status.
ISA is a grassroots organization that thrives on input and support of its members. In an effort to highlight ISA's work and our members' accomplishments, and to figure out what role ISA has in the sustainable agriculture and local food movements, it hosted our first Annual Meeting since the early 1990s. The Dec. 10 event was attended by about 50 people. It included presentations by ISA staff about what the organization did in 2012 and presentations by member about their accomplishments over the past year.
Attendees were able to share a delicious lunch, network with fellow members, and give input on what ISA will focus on in the future. The outcomes of the meeting will help ISA as the organization looks to its work 2013. A more detailed post regarding that will be published later.
The annual "meeting was incredible, moving and had a great impact on me. There IS hope. There ARE passionate people who want to do great things for others, help people who need access to good, healthy food," ISA member Jeannette Hoss said after the meeting. "I want to become more involved, educate others about food choices and how to eat healthy. It's imperative to eat foods sourced via ethical means - not just in the way animals are raised, but fruits and vegetables and herbs and spices and oils and so on - everything we put in and on our bodies!"
Hoss wasn't the only one to give unsolicited words of support.
Marnie Record, sister of ISA Executive Director Lindsay Record, recently moved back to Illinois. The day after the meeting, she sent this email to ISA Board President John Curtis, and has been kind enough to allow us to use a portion on our website.
"As someone who has only known Illinois Stewardship Alliance from afar, I was really blown away, for lack of more eloquent words, by the meeting yesterday. And for the first time I saw ISA for what it is rather than just my sister’s job. The newsletters and events just don’t capture the magnitude of the reach your organization has had so I’m glad a lot of people were there yesterday to fully experience your effectiveness and wish everyone could have been there. It was very evident to me that your organizational strength lies in bringing people together, and being a leader, but at the same time being a supporter of everything local food in the state. It was great to see people from all over the state come. It was great to see so many of the stars of the Illinois local food movement engaged in your process."
With the new year just around the corner ISA has been thinking about and planning for the new year. Here is just a taste of some the policy related activities we are planning on and anticipating for 2013:
Farm Bill: Federal food and agriculture policy remains in limbo without a clear direction regarding the future of the 5-year farm bill. In short things are as clear as mud. With that said, something will have to be done and it is expected that some sort of extension to the 2008 Farm Bill will be passed and then Congress will begin the process of writing a new farm bill a new in 2013.
Local Food Awareness Day at the Capitol (Save-the-Date): ISA’s annual Local Food Awareness Day at the Capitol will be March 13, 2012. Stay tuned for details and registration information. Local Food Day at the Capitol is a great way to come and learn about the legislative process and meet with your elected Representatives to lobby them to support policies and programs that grow local food systems and sustainable agriculture.
Potential 2013 Legislation: 2013 is going to be a busy and exciting year at the state capitol with a number of potential issues and legislation that affects small farms, local food systems and sustainable agriculture. We are anticipating working on legislation to reform composting laws in Illinois to better support organic farms and urban agriculture projects, create an income tax credit for hoop houses and greenhouses, reform pesticide laws as they relate to chemical drift, possible changes to laws and licensing surrounding eggs, and mandatory GMO Labeling laws.
Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA) has a vision of what agriculture can become in Illinois and an understanding of what it will take to get there, but we need your help.
Our vision is pretty simple. We believe Illinois can feed itself, sustainably. We envision a system where:
- soils are treated as a precious resource;
- local food producers earn a fair, living wage;
- local food education is integrated into all levels of education;
- infrastructure is rebuilt to accommodate local food systems; and
- good food is available for all.
Illinois is an agricultural powerhouse. It enjoys an abundance of prime farmland, ranking third nationally in total prime farmland acreage. Illinois exports nearly $4 billion of agricultural commodities each year, but imports more than 95 percent of its food. Clearly, there is a tremendous need to turn our focus inward and work harder to bestow more of our agricultural blessings on the constituents of our own state.
With your support, ISA can continue this important work to support farmers and to grow and strengthen our state's local food system. In 2012, this will include:
- connecting farmers with restaurants;
- supporting farm to school programs;
- engaging farmers and citizens in the Farm Bill; and
- spreading the word about conservation programs that benefit farmers and the environment!
Your donations to ISA make a difference! We would not be able to do this work without you, and we truly appreciate your support.
P.S. We cannot do this work without donations from supporters like you. Please make a tax-deductible donation to Illinois Stewardship Alliance today, so that we can continue to help our farmers in Illinois.
I'm sure you're as thankful for our farmers as I am! This time of year, as I prepared for a mostly local Thanksgiving dinner, I was full of gratitude for the family farmers in Illinois who work hard to build a local food system and are committed stewards of the land.
Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA) has worked diligently to support our farmer members and to expand and strengthen local food systems while protecting our environment.
In 2012 we have:
- Connected farmers with restaurants - Our recent survey of chefs and farmers in Illinois indicated that chefs are interested in buying local foods and farmers want to sell to restaurants. We are helping to make that connection! This year we released a farm-to-table guide for restaurants, organized several farm-to-table workshops reaching over 100 chefs and culinary students, and held Local Flavors events in three central Illinois communities.
- Supported farm to school programs - Earlier this month, we organized the second annual Sangamon Area Farm to School Summit to help schools throughout the region learn how to implement these beneficial programs.
- Engaged farmers and citizens in the Farm Bill - While we don't have a new Farm Bill yet, ISA continues to rally support for small farmers, conservation programs, and local food systems in this year's ongoing Farm Bill process.
- Spread the word about conservation programs - Our soils are a precious resource and conservation programs help preserve soils for many generations of farmers while rewarding farmers for the good work they're doing. We have increased participation in these programs, contributing to 540 enrollees in the Conservation Stewardship Program, and helped farmers achieve their goals of reducing nutrient run-off and improve water quality through workshops, field days and media work.
We look forward to continuing this important work in the year ahead, and we are seeking your support so we can maximize our efforts in 2013. Next year, we are looking forward to organizing chef-farmer mixers to expand local food sales and increase the economic viability of family farms; establishing a cover crops program to assist farmers with implementing this beneficial practice; and advocating for both state and federal policies, like a greenhouse tax credit, that provide critical support to small farmers.
Your donation to ISA will make a difference! We will not be able to do this work without you, and we truly appreciate your support. So this holiday season, I am thankful for our farmers and to you for your shared commitment! Thank you and happy Thanksgiving!
P.S. We cannot do this work without donations from supporters like you. Please make an end-of-the-year tax-deductible donation to Illinois Stewardship Alliance today so that we can continue to help our farmers in Illinois. Want to up your commitment? Help us reach our goal of having one new lifetime member before the end of the year!