This September, the Eat Local Challenge campaign will have central Illinois residents pledging to spend $20 each week on locally grown food. The Eat Local Challenge, organized by Illinois Stewardship Alliance in partnership with farmers markets across central Illinois, aims to combat the annual slump in sales that farmers experience during the month of September by encouraging shoppers to buy locally.
September is one of the most abundant months of the year for Illinois farmers, featuring warm season crops like tomatoes and melons alongside cool weather crops like lettuce, apples, and winter squash. However, the return of the school session, cooling temperatures, and an increasing disconnect between shoppers and 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.
“September isn’t the winding down of the farm, it’s the full throttle peak season for us. We have tended our land and crops for six months getting to our grand finale and it’s disappointing when we have no one show up for our end of the year extravaganza,” says Jacque Suttill- Simpson of Suttill’s Gardens in Springfield. “We farmers experience the ‘slump’ right when our best is yet to come.”
As a result of concerns from central Illinois farms and farmers market managers about the “September Slump”, the Alliance is working with farmers markets across central Illinois to organize the Central Illinois Eat Local Challenge campaign.
Participating farmers markets include:
- The Downtown Bloomington Farmers Market
- The Downs Village Market
- The Urbana Market at the Square
- The Champaign Farmers Market
- The Peoria Riverfront Farmers Market
- The Old Capitol Farmers Market in Springfield
- The Streator Farmers Market
- The Rochester Public Library Farmers Market
“Last year was our first year organizing the Challenge and over 250 people took the Challenge. This year we hope to have 500 participants,” says Molly Gleason, Communications Director for Illinois Stewardship Alliance. “That would mean at least $40,000 in sales of locally-grown food for the region.”
Registration for the Eat Local Challenge opened on Saturday, August 12th, during National Farmers Market Week. Central Illinois residents can sign up online at www.buyfreshbuylocalcentralillinois.org, or register in person at their nearest participating farmers market. The first 250 participants will receive a free, USA made, farmers market tote bag filled with more information on shopping locally—available at participating markets in September. Additionally, all Challenge participants will be subscribed to a weekly e-newsletter featuring seasonal recipes, farmers market meal plans, a weekly spending log to keep registrants on track, and updates on local food events going on throughout the region.
In Springfield these include:
Sept 7: Downtown Springfield Inc. Friends of the Market Street Dinner
Sept 14: Slow Food Springfield Tour of Petersburg Poultry Processing
Sept. 21: Local Flavors Dinner at Engrained Brewing Company
Sept. 24: Illinois Stewardship Alliance Annual Harvest Celebration
For the full list of events across central Illinois, visit www.buyfreshbuylocalcenralillinois.org
“There is such a wide variety of products this time of year,” says Lindsay Keeney, Market Manager for the Old Capitol Farmers Market in downtown Springfield, “and because the harvest is so plentiful in September, it’s also one of the most affordable times to shop locally. 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 to shop at your farmers market.”
For more information about the Eat Local Challenge or the Buy Fresh Buy Local Central Illinois Chapter visit www.buyfreshbuylocalcentralillinois.org