2018 Golden Beet Awards Celebrate Food Innovators Across Illinois

Illinois Stewardship Alliance is proud to announc the 2018 Golden Beet Award winners. The Golden Beets are a series of awards created by the Alliance to highlight progressive local food practices and recognize the people who are pushing the local food movement forward in Illinois. The winners represent some of the most innovative farmers, restaurants, and businesses across the state leading the charge for a sustainable local food and farm system.

“It’s easy to drive across Illinois and see only corn and soybeans,” says Molly Gleason, Illinois Stewardship Alliance Communications Director, “but there is a vibrant and growing local food scene here in Illinois, and we think that’s something to celebrate too.”

According to the first ever USDA census on farms using direct-to-consumer marketing practices (i.e. farmers markets, farm-stands, and community supported agriculture [CSA] shares), Illinois has nearly 3,800 farms using direct-market practices and generating roughly $108,000,000 in sales, most of which stays in Illinois communities and helps build local economies. 

“The Golden Beet Awards are our way of drawing attention to not only the hard-working farmers, but community volunteers, school teachers, chefs, bloggers, and many other passionate individuals from across the state who are finding unique ways to bring people together around local food,” says Gleason. “This is our 5th year presenting these awards and every year I’m blown away by what the people of Illinois are accomplishing. It makes me very excited for a future where fresh, wholesome, locally-grown food is the norm instead of the exception.”

Illinois Stewardship Alliance solicits nominations from the general public in five categories: 

  1. Innovative Farmer: Types of activities include community supported agriculture (CSA), direct marketing, unique products, unique methods of production
  2. Restaurants and Institutions: Types of activities include use of local foods; unique local food marketing, procurement, or product integration
  3. Farm to School: Types of activities include school gardens, local food curriculum, school lunch programs featuring local food
  4. Community Food Projects: Types of Activities include community gardens, local food policy councils, farmers markets, blogs, unique projects related to creating more access to local food within the community
  5. Scaling Up: Types of activities include wholesale, processing, distribution, or cooperatives. Any project that helps local farmers grow their businesses

The 2018 winners will be awarded at the Illinois Stewardship Alliance Annual Membership Meeting on Thursday, February 15th in Springfield, IL. Members and non-members are invited to attend. 

The winners are:

Innovative Farmer: Spurgeon Veggies CSA
Dusty Spurgeon and Eloise Spurgeon
279 Knox Road 2550 North, Rio, Illinois 61472

Dusty Spurgeon showcases a booth full of veggies at the Galesburg Farmers Market

Spurgeon Veggies is a small, diversified, woman-owned, family farm operation that has been serving Galesburg for the last 10 years. Eloise Spurgeon began the operation in 2007 and brought on her daughter-in-law Dusty in 2010. The pair make environmentally conscious land management a priority– leaving nearly 50 acres of their farm in original hardwood trees to provide habitat for native wildlife and using organic practices to raise their produce.

Between the two farms, Spurgeon Veggies grows nearly every vegetable possible for Illinois and cares for over a hundred laying hens. The farms provide enough produce to sustain a 100-member CSA, a farm stand, an always well-stocked booth at the Galesburg Farmers’ Market, and supports several local restaurants.

Dusty says, “With just a few acres of land, I’m able to offer my community some seriously high-quality produce, eggs, and meat that doesn’t have to travel thousands of miles to get to their kitchens. That’s the most important part, to me: the sheer quality of the veggies you can get locally is just incredible. You can get thirty or forty different kinds of tomatoes from us that you’d never see in a supermarket, because they don’t ship well. They’re bursting with color and flavor, worlds apart from anything shipped-in, and it makes me truly happy to give that experience to Galesburg”

Restaurants and Institutions: Cristaudo’s Cafe & Bakery
Rachel Cristaudo
209 S. Illinois Ave. Carbondale, IL, 62901

While Cristaudo’s Cafe and Bakery in Carbondale is known for the pastries and cakes, they work to support local farmers as much as possible through their menu and through participation in local food advocacy non-profits.

Cristaudo’s Café and Bakery has been a Carbondale culinary destination for decades. Rachel Cristaudo’s parents opened the business in 1977, it sold in 2004, and then in 2011 Rachel and three business partners Leah, Jennifer, and Nicholas bought it back and re-opened it. While they are known for their challah, catering and wedding cakes, Cristaudo’s puts just as much thought into sourcing as many local ingredients as possible for their menu and supporting local food and farms in many other ways. They attend and host meetings about the Southern Illinois local food system and pick up quality fresh food from the weekly farmers markets. Cristaudo’s are the go-to caterers for the Neighborhood Co-op Grocery’s annual meeting and for the annual Fall Feast or Rock the Plate fundraising dinners for Food Works, a southern Illinois food advocacy not-for-profit. From the eggs they use in their French macaroons to the basil that goes in the pesto on submarine sandwiches, Cristaudo’s does their best to go locally first. They care just as deeply about supporting local farmers as they do about the food they serve.

Rachel says, “There are so many reasons why buying local is important to us.  Among those are strengthening the local economy, utilizing the best ingredients, caring for the environment and building community.”

Farm to School: Julie Anders and the Fowler Farm Project
Julie Anders
Edison Middle School
306 W Green St, Champaign, IL 61820

The Fowler Farm project is a garden site that provides a “Living Laboratory” for a partnership of students from Edison Middle School in Champaign and nearby Urbana High School. Students from both schools are learning about sustainable methods of growing foods. Julie Anders, a teacher with Unit 4 School District, began bringing students to Fowler Farm in 2014. She serves as liaison between the owner of the farm and the school district and manages the grants that support various Fowler Farm Projects. To date, some projects include showcasing how drones help farmers, setting up catch stations for insects, studying invasive species of plants like Canadian Thistle, and a Chopped Challenge as a culminating activity between the two schools utilizing garden produce and eggs from the chickens.

Julie says of the project, “It gives insight about what it takes to bring food to the table. We need to have spaces and places in the natural world to actively be a part of that. The digital world is stressing our students (and all of us) in ways we have yet to fully understand. Getting out into the green spaces, digging, planting, learning about the chickens, respecting them in providing appropriate environments for them, gathering eggs, feeling the weather and its effects rather than just checking it on a phone app, is useful in an entirely different way than reading about it.”

Community Food Projects: Nature’s Farm Camp
Tim Magner
13128 E. 2700 North Rd. Cornell, IL 61319

A child collects a straw hat full of eggs from free-range hens at Nature’s Farm Camp, one of the many farm chores kids are responsible for throughout the week.

Nature’s Farm Camp, now going into its 4th summer, is a week long, sleep away summer camp for kids ages 8 – 15. In partnership with Antiquity Oaks Farm, camp operates on this working farm 100 miles south of Chicago. Each week campers are responsible to help run the farm through chores which happen twice daily. Morning and evening chores consist of collecting eggs, milking goats, and feeding pigs, sheep, chickens, goats, and ducks. Campers also harvest from the gardens, which they help maintain, and assist in cooking seasonal meals and prepping snacks. They also learn knife skills, make mozzarella cheese for pizza night, pickle cucumbers, help create menus, and discuss the importance of seasonal, local foods.

Between chores and meals, many campers throughout the day run to the garden for a snack (carrots and cherry tomatoes among this year’s favorites), take time for ‘goat therapy’ as one camper termed spending peaceful time in the pasture with goats, or climb mulberry trees to harvest and share the bounty with their friends. The connection to food is prevalent and contemplated in every aspect of camp.

Founder and Director Tim Magner says of the camp sprang from his work conducting nature and food programing in Chicago schools. “ Mostly kids would spend their days sitting in desks following directions, and they were being fed processed food loaded with sugar and salt. So we started Nature’s Farm Camp with the intention of immersing kids in fantastic food and outdoor adventure.Our goal is to support the development of kids, so they become competent problem solvers, and we like to think one of the solutions they’ll be a part of is making local and great food the de facto choice.”

Scaling Up: Spence Farm Foundation Bread Camp
Erin Meyer
959 N. 2100 E. Road, Fairbury, IL 61739

Spence Farm Foundation’s annual summer Bread Camp and Chef Camp are a unique and effective program to connect farmers and food professionals with new and growing markets. They bring chefs and bakers out to a sustainable farm to see firsthand both the way food is grown, processed, and how it bakes or cooks. They teach about where food really comes from, the tenets of sustainability, what questions to ask your suppliers, and then they see how better raw ingredients create better food. The chefs and bakers camp out at the farm, build relationships with each other and with the food, and wake up at the crack of dawn to help with harvest and chores.

Changes occur at the grassroots level and farmers are experimenting, observing and developing ways to move the good food system forward from the ground-up. Spence Farm Foundation Bread Camp brings students, culinary professionals, medical professionals, and eaters into contact with this system, understanding that they also have a responsibility and a role to change the system. Through these hands-on educational opportunities they go forward to teach others, to have better methods of purchasing, to pull back from their own daily experience to understand the impact of their decisions on the whole system.

Erin says, “We began the Bread Camp in 2011 to increase a baker’s capacity to procure and utilize regionally grown whole grains in order to help build and develop the regional grain food shed.”