September Eat Local Challenge Increases Investment in Local Economy

Over the course of 30 days in September, 194 central Illinois residents took the Eat Local Challenge, pledging to spend $20 each week on locally-grown food and reinvesting between $15,000 and $32,000 in their communities.

In addition to boosting the local economy, the Challenge also improved education surrounding the use of local food and where to find it. According to weekly survey results:

  • 77% of participants learned more about seasonality and what produce is available in September
  • 43.4% of participants reported that they purchased MORE local food during the month of September as compared to other months.
  • 37.8% of participants tried new produce or varieties they had not tried before
  • 24.3% purchased food at new locations they had not frequented before (restaurants, retailers, farms, etc.)
  • An average of $41.60/week spent on locally grown food by participants, more than double the pledge amount.
  • Between $15,000 and $32,000 was reinvested in the central Illinois economy ($20 – $41.60 spent weekly by 194 participants)

* An average of 39 participants completed the weekly surveys

The Eat Local Challenge was organized by Illinois Stewardship Alliance in partnership with seven central Illinois farmers markets. The Challenge was designed to combat the “September Slump,” a decline in sales and attendance at farmers and farmers markets across Illinois during the month of September.

An Eat Local Challenge participant displays the wide array of products available at farmers markets in September through her market purchases for the day: Flowers, potatoes, apples, heirloom cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, a beet, an onion, and a slab of bacon.

Chad Wallace of Oak Tree Farms stands next to tomatoes and arugula, available at his booth at the Old Capitol Farmer Market well into October along with cuts of heritage pork and free-range eggs.

Mark Baalman of Baalman’s Calhoun Produce displays an impressive selection of apples along with many summer and fall vegetables available at his stand throughout the month of September at the Old Capitol Farmers Market in Springfield.

“This year in our average attendance counts for the September were down almost 1,000 people from our peak month in July,” says Lindsay Keeney, market manager for the Old Capitol Farmers Market in downtown Springfield. “The ‘September Slump’ is a real problem for farmers, especially at a time of year when they often have a surplus of produce. We were thrilled to be a part of the Challenge and help bring more awareness to this issue.” Keeney notes that during July, the average attendance was 3,200 people per market, while the average attendance for September was 2300 people per market. 

Participants registered online or in-person at the participating markets and received a market tote-bag and the latest edition of the Alliance’s Buy Fresh Buy Local Central Illinois directory, a guide featuring over 100 area farms, farmers markets, farm-to-table restaurants, and local food retailers. In addition, participants received a weekly newsletter featuring seasonal recipes, farmers market meal plans and shopping lists, preparation and storage tips for unique vegetables, a weekly survey to track spending and learning, and a list of upcoming food and farm events across central Illinois.

This year marked the second year for the Eat Local Challenge which began in 2016. Participating markets included:

  • The Land Connection Champaign Farmers Market
  • Urbana’s Market at the Square
  • The Streator Farmers Market
  • The Downtown Bloomington Farmers Market
  • The Peoria Riverfront Farmers Market
  • The Rochester Public Library Farmers Market
  • The Old Capitol Farmers Market

Challenge participants also reported positive experiences throughout the month, citing the following: 

  • “It really opened my eyes to what is available at the markets, and gave me perspective on how to eat seasonally”
  • “I realized that incorporating more local foods into our family meals was much easier than I expected!”
  • “Helps me to remember the farmers rely on income for their livelihood.”

For more information about the Eat Local Challenge and other upcoming events and programs, visit www.buyfreshbuylocalcentralillinois.org