What is the EDIBLE ECONOMY PROJECT? In the fertile soil and temperate climate of Central Illinois, we can grow hundreds of kinds of fruits and vegetables, along with staple grains and livestock for meat, eggs, and milk. Yet over 95% of the food we buy and eat is grown outside our community. The Edible Economy Project is working to change that. In partnership with local farmers, schools, businesses, and community members in a 32 Central Illinois counties, the Edible Economy Project is facilitating development of local food production, distribution, and processing facilities. Our goal is to foster a healthier, more self-sufficient community where more local money goes back into the local community.
How will the EDIBLE ECONOMY PROJECT help our community? The Edible Economy Project is working with a diverse group of community members and organizations to realize the great economic potential of local food production, processing, and consumption. The Project’s long-term goal is to build a modern local food infrastructure giving farmers access to expanded market, and consumers access to fresh, healthy local foods. As a first step, the Project is creating a regional food hub network in Central Illinois—enabling connections among local people and local food for the benefit of the entire community. The USDA defines a “local food hub” as “a business or organization that is actively coordinating the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified locally grown food products from primarily small to mid-sized producers.” As such, food hubs are a proven approach for building farmer and community wealth. They help farmers to obtain a fair price for their goods, improve food security for people at all income levels within the community, and ensure more of the community’s wealth is reinvested locally.
While our community has many farmers who want to raise more local food and many individuals and institutions (Illinois State University, Illinois Wesleyan University, hospitals, schools, businesses) that would like to purchase it, the lack of local food infrastructure makes it nearly impossible for farmers to scale up, and for consumers and institutions to access the food they need. A local food hub will expand marketing and growth opportunities for small and mid-size farms raising food crops (primarily fruits and vegetables) in central Illinois, increase local food accessibility for consumers at all income levels, enhance the economies of rural communities in central Illinois, and foster sustainable environmental practices to help preserve our agricultural heritage, ensuring that our fertile soils provide this and future generations with healthy foods.
By restoring the local food infrastructure needed to aggregate, process, store, package, and distribute local farm products, the Edible Economy Project will also be working toward the following objectives:
Restoring prime farmland to food production, enabling our state to produce more of its own food: Fifty years ago, Illinois’s prime farmland hosted sustainable family farms growing food for themselves and their neighbors. Today 73.9% of Illinois farmland is enrolled in the federal farm program for commodity corn and soybeans—and the state is importing over 95% of its food.
Increasing the number of local farmers growing food for local consumption: As our farmers gain assurance that market outlets are accessible, ready, willing, and able to buy their products, existing farmers will ramp up production, and new farmers will be recruited. In addition, there will be greater impetus toward year-round food production, using the same greenhouses, hoop houses, and cultivation practices that farmers in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario already use to supply produce to Illinois each winter.
Boosting economic prosperity for rural Illinois communities: As the farmer’s share of the food dollar has declined (from $0.41 in 1950 to $0.19 in 2006, ERS data), industrial farming has increasingly extracted value from local farmland without reinvesting profits in local communities. The result has been faltering rural economies. In 2003, Illinois State University agricultural economist Patrick O’Rourke estimated Logan County was losing $1,890,000 annually, based on the retail value of lost local sales of farm inputs.¹ Ken Meter’s June 2011 assessment of the 32 Central Illinois counties surrounding Bloomington-Normal, Champaign-Urbana, Peoria, and Springfield determined that our region loses $5 billion of potential wealth each year because more money is exported through external purchases of food and agricultural inputs than is created through crop production.²
Opportunity is knocking on our door! As demand for locally grown food increases in our own community and in nearby metropolitan areas like Chicago and St. Louis, Central Illinois has the opportunity to restore the economic vibrancy of our rural communities by producing food to nourish ourselves and our urban neighbors..
¹ Illinois People’s Action, “Local Family-Farmers Pushed Off Land by Mega-Farmers,” (http://illinoispeoplesaction.org/ipa-issues/family-farms/)
² Ken Meter, “Building Economic Recovery Through ‘Local” Food Systems,’ (June 28, 2011), p 47. (http://www.crcworks.org/crcppts/ilcent11.pdf)