Every year Illinois Stewardship Alliance hosts an Annual Meeting in December to highlight members, gather feedback to inform our work, and provide an opportunity for networking. This year, in place of our standard Annual Meeting, we are joining forces with the Routes To Farm network to host a special event that will enable us to reach more stakeholders and create a more comprehensive picture of the work that needs to be done to further the local food system. We invite you to join us at the Routes To Farm: Emerging Challenges for Direct-Market Farms to develop a farmer-led action plan to face critical issues and barriers to success for local farms in our region. The event will take place January 18-19th at the picturesque Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center.
Early registration for farmers will begin November 13th. Meals and lodging will be available at no cost for farmers. General registration for food system advocates and other stakeholders will begin December 1st. Space will be limited. Registration will be online at www.routes2farm.org
The gathering is designed to answer this fundamental question: How can we ensure the continued success of local farms in our foodshed?
Direct-market business models such as farmers markets and community supported agriculture (CSA) have fueled much of the growth of the local food movement in the last two decades. However, a growing number of farmers in our region now report declining farmers market sales and increased difficulty attracting and retaining CSA members. Through a process of open dialogue among farmers and local food advocates, we will (1) gain an understanding of current challenges for direct market farms, (2) identify critical issues and barriers to their continued success and (3) develop a farmer-led agenda for action that will guide follow-up activity after the conference concludes.
Important questions we hope to address include:
- What obstacles do farmers selling to local markets face?
- How are consumer behaviors and preferences changing?
- How will CSA farms attract and retain new members in a changing marketplace?
- What’s behind declining sales at farmers markets?
- How can farmers work together to reach new markets?
- What can food and farm organizations do to help farmers overcome obstacles?
Since the real ‘experts’ at the conference are the participants, the bulk of our time will be spent in small working groups. The conference will use an “Open Space” meeting format that allows for broad and democratic input and is used by diverse organizations, businesses, and communities to deal with complex and systemic problems. For more information on Open Space meeting facilitation, please visit www.openspaceworld.org.