Springfield- This September, participants in an Eat Local Challenge campaign across Central Illinois will pledge to eat locally grown food throughout the month. The third annual September Eat Local Challenge, organized by the Buy Fresh Buy Local Central Illinois chapter, aims to combat the annual slump in sales at farmers markets during the month of September by making it easy for shoppers to find and prepare local food.
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 appless and winter squash. However, the return of the school session and cooling temperatures mark a drop off in farmers market attendance during this month. The resulting decline in sales, often referred to by farmers as the “September Slump,” increases food waste and weakens the economic viability of small farms before entering into the slow winter months.
Roger Martin from R & R Farms, a long-standing vendor at farmers markets in Springfield, Jacksonville, and Peoria, estimates that his farmers market sales decline by as much as 50% during the month of September. He adds, “After Labor Day we start seeing less and less people and you start to get discouraged wondering why certain people aren’t coming out to the market anymore.”
In 2017, attendance counts at the Old Capitol Farmers Market in downtown Springfield revealed a decline of about 1000 patrons between July and September, echoing Roger’s sentiments.
The September Eat Local Challenge combats this decline by providing participants with resources, games, and challenges that make eating local easy and fun.
Registration for the Eat Local Challenge opened on Saturday, August 12th, during National Farmers Market Week and will remain open throughout September. Interested persons can sign up online at www.buyfreshbuylocalcentralillinois.org at any time.
Once registered, participants receive a free downloadable packet of resources to help them eat local, including:
- The newly published 2018 Buy Fresh Buy Local Central Illinois Directory, featuring a list of farms, farmers markets, farm-to-table restaurants, and local food grocers throughout Central Illinois
- Weekly meal plans featuring seasonal ingredients
- Recipes from renowned farm-to-table chefs across Central Illinois
- A list of food and farm events taking place across the region
- Opportunities to win weekly prizes and a $100 Grand Prize through the Eat Local Challenge Photo Scavenger Hunt
Additionally, all Challenge participants will be subscribed to a weekly e-newsletter featuring stories about local farms, additional tips and tricks for eating local, and reminders about upcoming food and farm events.
This year’s Eat Local Challenge campaign differs from years past by giving participants the option to choose their own “challenge.” This option gives participants of all walks of life the ability to make local food a part of their lives no matter if they are a novice at buying locally or a long-time local food supporter. Now upon registration, participants are asked to choose one (or all) of the following challenges to undertake for the month:
- I pledge to shop at the farmers market once a week throughout September.
- I pledge to create one meal each week featuring mostly local ingredients throughout September.
- I pledge to source all of my meat and protein directly from local farmers using ethical practices throughout September.
“The Eat Local Challenge is a reminder that farms are counting on us here in Central Illinois and now is the best time to eat local,” says Molly Gleason, Communications Director for Illinois Stewardship Alliance and an organizer of the Challenge. “Taking the Challenge keeps food dollars in your community, makes it easy to eat healthy throughout the month, and most importantly, keeps small farms on the land. It’s free, it’s easy, and everyone wins.”
While September is an important month for supporting small farms in Central Illinois, it’s also an especially critical month for local food on the national level this year. Liz Moran Stelk, Executive Director of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance adds, “While we challenge ourselves to eat local in September, our members of Congress will be challenged to finish a farm bill before it expires at the end of the month. We’re counting on our Congressmen Rodney Davis on the conference committee to champion the tiny but might local food programs that invest in our local food systems, support family farmers, and keep our money local.”
Additional information to learn about the Farm Bill and take action will be available on the Buy Fresh Buy Local Central Illinois Website throughout the month.
Buy Fresh Buy Local Central Illinois is a program of Illinois Stewardship Alliance. For more information about the September Eat Local Challenge or the Buy Fresh Buy Local Central Illinois Chapter visit www.buyfreshbuylocalcentralillinois.org
Illinois Stewardship Alliance is a statewide non-profit organization committed to cultivating local food and farm systems that are environmentally sustainable, economically viable, and socially just. The Alliance operates the Buy Fresh Buy Local Central Illinois chapter, which consists of over 100 farmers, farmers markets, restaurants, and retailers with a commitment to raising and selling locally-grown food.