Illinois Stewardship Alliance is pleased to announce the 2015 Golden Beet Award winners. The Golden Beets, now in their 5th year, are a series of awards created by Illinois Stewardship Alliance in order 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 practitioners and pioneers of local food throughout the state.
“Through our work across the state we come across so many amazing people and local food projects, yet they often never receive the recognition they deserve. When people think of agriculture in Illinois they think of corn and soybeans and often don’t realize that there is so much more going on. We think of the Golden Beet Awards as a way to draw attention to the people and projects that are proving local food systems can work in Illinois and are leading by example,” says Molly Gleason, Illinois Stewardship Alliance Outreach Coordinator.
Illinois Stewardship Alliance solicits nominations from the general public in six categories: farm to school; community food projects; restaurants and institutions; innovative farmer; scaling up; and other varieties.
In order to insure an impartial selection, the Alliance organizes an outside committee of persons involved in local food systems throughout the state which review the nominees and decide on the winners in the specific categories. The 2015 winners will be awarded at the Illinois Stewardship Alliance Annual Meeting on Thursday, Dec. 3rd. The winners are:
Farm to School
Real Food at Northwestern University
Real Food at NU was founded in Spring 2014 by a group of NU students, lead by Colleen Fitzgerrell and Miranda Cawley, in the hope of bringing healthier and tastier food on campus and contributing to a systematical change in our current food system toward a more environmentally sustainable and socially just one. The mission of Real Food at NU is to create a student-led movement that engages administrators, faculty, staff, workers, producers and community members to enact a shift to a community-based food system built on fair labor practices and food that is humane and ecologically-sound. After more than a year of gathering community support and meeting with administrators, in June of 2015 members from NURF obtained official institutional commitment from President Morton Shapiro, stating that NU will source at least 20% real food by 2020.
Community Food Project
Name: Cheryl Muñoz of Sugar Beet Food Co-op
Cheryl is the Executive Director of Sugar Beet Schoolhouse, which is a non-for-profit organization that provides food literacy programming to the surrounding community, as well as the founder of and marketing and outreach lead for Sugar Beet Food Co-op, a community owned grocery store that opened in July 2015 in Oak Park, IL. Cheryl, seeking a locally-owned source for local and sustainably-grown food, began raising awareness and support for Sugar Beet Food Co-op in 2012 with her neighbors. After three years of building owner support, they were able to open the Co-op this summer. Along the way, Cheryl began the Sugar Beet Schoolhouse (501c3), which is the education and community development arm of her work. The Schoolhouse works in collaboration with other community partners to provide food literacy programming such as cooking classes, gardening workshops, summer camps and after school programming. Cheryl says, “I am the mother of 2 young kids and through our adventures together we have connected with beautiful land, food and people. I want land to be nourishing for future generations and our food system will only be sustainable if it is localized. I am not a farmer but my work is to inspire people to consider that the food from our region, grown by the good people that act as stewards of our land is valuable and unparalleled.”
Scaling Up (Awarded to projects or individuals that help scale up local food production and availability throughout the state)
Name: Marnie Record, developer of Lincoln Land Community College’s Value Added Local Food Program
Responding to the growth of the local food industry, Lincoln Land Community College’s Workforce Development division launched a Value-Added Local Food certificate program in the fall of 2014. A value-added product is any product grown by a farmer and processed in some way to add value. Jams, pickles, sauces, and salsas all fall into this category. This certificate program, the first of its kind in the nation, blends culinary arts, local food systems, and business skill development to prepare students for a successful career as a local food entrepreneur or in the broad-based local food culinary industry. Courses expose students to classical and contemporary culinary techniques, and sustainable foodservice operations. Graduates will be well-positioned to advance their careers in a field that has experienced a farmers’ market growth rate of 150 percent in the last decade. The program expects to result in the development of new food businesses in Sangamon County and around the state to grow our economy by capturing a portion of the $48 billion Illinois consumers spend annually on food.
Name: Dustin Kelly of Autumn Berry Inspired
Dustin Kelly is not your traditional farmer. He wild harvests berries from the exotic autumn olive shrub. Once widely planted in the U.S. to prevent soil erosion, the shrub has now become an invasive species that outcompetes with native species, alters landscapes, and can endanger delicate ecosystems. After learning that the fruit of the autumn olive was edible and nutritious, Dustin saw a great opportunity to feed people while also helping to heal farmland from this invasive affliction. Over the past four years, with help from friends, family, and employees, his budding company, Autumn Berry Inspired, LLC, has developed techniques to efficiently harvest and store large quantities of autumn berries as well as create value-added food products, such as jam and fruit leathers, to let people experience this under-recognized super-fruit. Through the harvesting process they remove large fruiting branches on the shrub and collect every berry they can, removing tens of thousands of seeds from the seed bank and keeping birds from eating the fruit and continuing to disperse the seeds. The products are sold at farmers markets, stores, and conferences to promote widespread consumption of autumn berries, for the purposes of sustainability and food security, land restoration, and eating this aggressive species into submission. Dustin says, “I feel there are important social, spiritual, and political decisions we make with food: how it is produced, how we purchase it, and how we share it. Yet there is something simple and timeless about farming, how we work with these basic resources. I find farming is a way to have a voice for long-term sustainability, and a stake in the future.”
Restaurant and Institutions
Name: Big Grove Tavern
Big Grove Tavern is the first true Farm-to-Table restaurant in the Champaign-Urbana area. Chef Jessica Gorin and Sous Chefs Terrah King and Tomasz Nilges draw inspiration from the local farmer’s market and utilize exceptional ingredients at the height of their season. Each menu reflects their solid commitment to using naturally-raised and organic ingredients sourced directly from local farms and farmers’ markets.
The name comes from a large stand of trees called, “The Big Grove,” which offered shelter from the wide open prairie skies during the earliest days of the Champaign-Urbana community. Now known as Busey Woods, you can still see the remnant of Big Grove in Urbana today.
Eden’s Place Nature Center
In 1997, community member, founder, and Executive Director of Fuller Park Community Development Michael Howard was concerned about the serious lead poisoning problems affecting the neighborhood children. Through research he discovered that Fuller Park contained the highest lead levels in the city of Chicago. As a community leader he wanted to make some serious changes for the sake of his family and his entire neighborhood, and he decided that this work would start with the illegal dumpsite located across the street from his home. Mounds of waste over two stories tall encompassed the entire three acres of land. Mr. Howard acquired the deed for the land and involved the community in a large scale, three year clean-up of the dumpsite. Alongside his wife and fellow activist Amelia, and in partnership with hundreds of volunteers and community members, Mr. Howard led a clean-up project in which more than 200 tons of waste including concrete, wood, tires and other toxin-laced materials were removed from the site. Upon clean-up of the site, the next step was development. Tons of fresh soil was brought in to establish the Great Lawn and create a place of beauty and peace amidst the busy Chicagoland neighborhood. Today Eden’s Place boasts a farm and CSA, as well as hosts a farmers market and a variety of programs to introduce and involve the community in nature and sustainability.