Drum Roll Please…..Illinois Stewardship Alliance Announces Golden Beet Award Winners

Golden Beet Awards Celebrate Local Food Innovators

Illinois Stewardship Alliance is pleased to announce the Golden Beet Award winners. The Golden Beet Awards, now in their 6th year, are awarded 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 and other practitioners that are building sustainable local food and farm systems.

“Illinois is well-known for its corn and soybean production, but what people often don’t realize is that there is a vibrant and growing local food scene here in Illinois,” says Molly Gleason, Illinois Stewardship Alliance Communications Director.

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. The census also revealed that most direct-market sales took place within 100 miles of the farm, meaning the money generated stays in the Illinois economy.

“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. “These individuals are building their communities through local food systems and they deserve recognition for their efforts.”

Illinois Stewardship Alliance solicits nominations from the general public in five categories: farm to school, community food projects, restaurants and institutions, innovative farmer, and scaling up. In order to insure an impartial selection, the Alliance organizes an outside committee of persons involved in local food systems throughout the state which then review the nominations and decide on the winner in each category. The 2016 winners were awarded at the Routes 2 Farm Summit on Thursday, January 17th in Starved Rock.  The winners are:

Innovative Farmer:
Orlan and Chastity Mays of Mustard Seed Sowers Farm, Carbondale, IL

Orlan and Chastity Mays of Mustard Seed Sowers Farm in Carbondale have been a part of the Southern Illinois farming community for nearly a decade. Orlan runs a teaching and market farm within the city. He expanded a basic grow-your-own food class for children into a community garden and most recently switched to an urban farm model. He runs the children’s literacy program voluntarily, using farming and gardening components in the curriculum. Orlan grows organically in a carbon-free environment (no combustion machinery), using bio-intensive and no-till techniques. He sells fruits, vegetables and herbal teas from the farm at two weekly Carbondale markets and at the Cape Girardeau, Missouri market.

Chastity says: “Local food and sustainable agriculture allows me the use of one of the greatest mediums, the earth, as a means to revolutionize a different way of living, a different way of eating, and even a different way of thinking about the fellow citizens, insects, animals, and elements in my community, in my society, in my states, in my nation, and even internationally.”

Restaurants and Institutions:
Mark Hartstein of Watson’s Shack and Rail, Champaign, IL

Mark Hartstein, better known as “Shades,” is the chef at Watson’s Shack & Rail where he works to incorporate local food into his restaurant on a daily basis. By shopping at the market each Tuesday in Downtown Champaign; working with regional farmers to procure ingredients for his dishes; and partnering with two local bakers, a flower and herb grower, and a forager, Shades is an important role model in the Champaign-Urbana restaurant community, demonstrating that restaurants can produce delicious dishes and meet demand while still supporting and buying local.

Mark says, “local is important to me because I still hold dear the old canard of ‘small is beautiful’ especially in the face of monopolies and multinationals.”

Community Food Projects (tie):
Angie Kuehl of the Jackson County Health Department, Murphysboro, IL

Angie Kuehl, the Recycling Educator and Plan4Health Educator for the Jackson County Health Department, uses her experience, hard work and passion to help unite a wide array of community stakeholders who promote healthy eating and physical fitness in Southern Illinois. Using her grass roots and institutional experience, she helped bring together nutrition students from Southern Illinois University Carbondale; University of Illinois Extension; Southern Illinois Healthcare, officials from the City of Carbondale; and the Carbondale Farmers Market (CFM). Her efforts helped to start and sustain a very successful SNAP token and Double Value Coupon program for Southern Illinois’ oldest and largest farmers’ market. Angie not only facilitated such partnerships, but was often the glue that held them together for the majority of the Carbondale Farmers Market season. With 11 of Illinois’ poorest counties being from Southern Illinois, Angie’s efforts have truly made an impact in her community. From wearing a blueberry costume that she made herself for a healthy eating and fitness event to facilitating student volunteers on Saturday mornings (even filling in herself if necessary), Angie went above and beyond to bring the community together behind local food.

Angie says, “Local food and sustainable agriculture can quite literally mean life or death for individuals, a community’s health, and ultimately the health of our planet.”

Rev. Linda Wygant of Grace Seeds Ministry, Bedford Park, IL

The Share the Harvest Program is a project of the Grace Seeds Ministry, headed by Rev. Linda Wygant. Share the Harvest is a 100% volunteer driven network of food producers and food pantry partners committed to direct, hands-on action to alleviate hunger in Cook County. The network began in 2006 and has grown to 32 food production partners including schools, faith based organizations and secular organizations who produce food for 17 recipient pantries. In 2016, Grace Seeds Ministry growing partners produced and distributed an estimated 20,000 pounds of food for low income Cook County residents. Grace Seeds Ministry is unique from other hunger relief programs, in their individualized and multi-faceted approach to building community. Grace Seeds Ministry works in syncopation with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, but because it operates on an individualized level, can plan for and adapt to each community’s specific needs. During winter planning, Grace Seeds works with grower and pantry recipients to establish common goals and determine planting schedules specifically tailored to that community’s food preferences. Grace Seeds Ministry takes it one step further by contracting school groups to grow seedlings for spring distribution and helping pantry recipients to grow their own food in order to transition from consumer to self-sufficiency.

Linda says, “Growing sustainably — mindful of what’s good for the soil, the pollinators, the waters and the sky – is an act of hope and faith that can change the world – one garden at a time!”

Scaling Up:
Bill Davison of the Grand Prairie Grain Guild, Normal, IL

Bill Davison has been with Extension since 2013 as a Local Food Systems Educator. In his first three years, he has developed and delivered impactful and relevant programs that are helping to create viable local food systems in Illinois. His work has primarily focused on helping farmers adapt conventional farming practices to a sustainable model that both meets growing consumer demand for more healthful food and generates more on-farm income that can keep the next generation on the farm. His largest program in this area is the Grand Prairie Grain Guild (GPGG). Started by Bill in 2014, the guild is a network of farmers, millers, chefs, bakers, and consumers interested in creating and expanding markets for organic grains. The Grain Guild recently harvested 42,000 bushels of organic, food-grade grain to be milled and sold into the Chicago market. In addition, the Guild was instrumental in initiating the building of a new flour mill by a farmer in south-central Illinois and connecting chefs, bakers, and farmers who are now selling local flour into the St. Louis area. Bill also helped the U of I Food Pilot Plant secure funding to upgrade their equipment so they can mill and process grains that will be used in the dining hall.

In addition to the Grand Prairie Grain Guild, Bill has been active in connecting his community with local food production and consumption. In 2015 he spearheaded two projects, the Refuge Food Forest, a one-acre, organic food forest that is the first of its kind in a public park in Illinois, and the Normal Seed Library, which makes seed access more available and familiarizes the public with the act of saving seeds.

Bill says, “On average, every person in the Midwest could be fed by food grown within 13 miles of where they live. We have the ability to feed ourselves and doing so would address many of the most pressing challenges that we face today.”

Farm to School:
Drew Thomas of Chicago Public Schools, Chicago, IL

Drew Thomas is a true champion for farm to school and school gardens in the city of Chicago. As the School Garden Coordinator for Chicago Public Schools, Drew provide on-site technical assistance, professional development workshops, partner engagement, and farm to school programming. He also helps with local food procurement, farmer visits, and recently developed a new school-based farmers market program to bring farmers markets directly to schools. Two markets were launched this year, beginning thirty minutes before dismissal and running for three hours. When available, students have their own table to raise money for their garden program, and parents and community members have an opportunity to purchase items from local farmers while listening to live music and experiencing chef demos utilizing produce from the market. His work has not only helped to create a cohesive farm-to-school program in Chicago Public Schools, but to grow it each year for the past 4 years.

Drew says, “Everyone eats. When we care about our diets, we care about our food; when we care about our food, we care about our soil; when our food is local, we care about our shared ecology.”

For more information about the Golden Beet Awards, visit: https://www.ilstewards.org/local-food-promotion/golden-beet-award/


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