This September, a new campaign challenges central Illinois residents to spend $20 each week on locally grown food. The Central Illinois Eat Local Challenge Campaign, organized by Illinois Stewardship Alliance and farmers markets across central Illinois, aims to combat the annual slump in sales that farmers experience during the month of September by spotlighting the bounty of locally grown produce available during the month.
September is one of the most abundant months of the year for Illinois farmers, featuring warm season crops like tomatoes and melons along with the return of cool weather crops like lettuce and those that require a longer growing season such as winter squash. However, the return of the school session, cooling temperatures, and a growing lack of knowledge regarding crop seasonality have all led to a drop off of farmers market attendance during this month. The resulting decline in sales increases food waste and weakens the economic viability of small farms before entering into the slow winter months.
This year, as a result of concerns from central Illinois farms and farmers market managers about the “September Slump,” the Alliance is working with farmers markets and other businesses to organize the Central Illinois Eat Local Challenge campaign. The Alliance will coordinate efforts regionally, while the participating farmers markets will help coordinate efforts in their respective communities.
Participating farmers markets include:
- The Downtown Bloomington Farmers Market
- The Downs Village Market
- Urbana’s Market at the Square
- The Land Connection Farmers Market in Champaign
- The Peoria Riverfront Farmers Market
- The Old Capitol Farmers Market in Springfield
- The Illinois Products Farmers Market in Springfield
- The Streator Downtown Farmers Market
“There is such a wide variety of products this time of year,” says Molly Gleason, Communications Director for Illinois Stewardship Alliance, “and because the harvest is so plentiful in September, it’s also one of the most affordable times to shop locally. Farmers have zucchini, squash, and cucumbers in abundance. Plus there’s all kinds of varieties and flavors that you won’t find in the grocery store, like baby fairytale eggplants and green striped zebra tomatoes. It’s really one of the best months of the year to shop at the farmers market.”
In order to help Challenge participants meet their goal of spending $20 a week on locally grown food, participants will be automatically subscribed to a weekly e-newsletter featuring seasonal recipes, farmers market meal plans, storage and food preservation tips, and updates on local food events going on throughout the region. Participants can also find recipes and inspiration on the Central Illinois Eat Local Challenge Facebook page (www.facebook.com/centralillinoiseatlocalchallnge/)
Additionally, beginning the first week of September, participants can bring their registration form to the nearest participating farmers market and pick up a tote bag that contains a Buy Fresh Buy Local Central Illinois directory; a magnetic shopping list note pad, and a flyer listing the events and activities going on throughout the month that are specific to that community. The full list of events can be found at www.buyfreshbuylocalcentralillinois.org.
In addition, a Central Illinois Eat Local Bingo Challenge will also be taking place throughout many of the communities. In Springfield, participants can pick up the bingo card at the market information booth at the Old Capitol Farmers Market. The card features local food purchases such as “order Ropp Farm cheese curds from Engrained Brewing Company” and “purchase a market-Inspired cocktail from American Harvest Eatery.” Those that complete 5 in a row can return the card to the Old Capitol Farmers Market for a chance to be entered into a drawing for a local food and restaurant gift basket.
Interested parties can register online at www.buyfreshbuylocalcentralillinois.org or in person at the market information booth at any of the participating farmers markets.
“We hope to have 500 participants this year,” says Gleason. “That would mean $40,000 in sales of locally-grown food for the region, although our hope is that people will be inspired to spend more than $20 each week. We’ll try to track the final result through data collection at the markets and through a final survey to participants at the end of the month. This is our first year attempting a campaign like this, so we’re excited to see how it turns out.”
Illinois Stewardship Alliance is a statewide non-profit organization committed to building sustainable, local food systems and aiding small farmers. The Alliance operates the Buy Fresh Buy Local Central Illinois chapter, which consists of over 150 farmers, farmers markets, restaurants, and retailers with a commitment to selling locally-grown food.
For more information about the Central Illinois Eat Local Challenge or the Buy Fresh Buy Local Central Illinois Chapter visit www.buyfreshbuylocalcentralillinois.org
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