Archive for the ‘Food Biz’ Category

Anyone interested in the Peoria Harvest Food Co-op – here’s an update I just received via email that indicates they will be moving forward pending funding.

“The Co-op was selected as a Senior Consulting Project for senior business students at Bradley University in January.  Throughout the spring semester, our team conducted a feasibility study and market research for us.  The study found strong community support for a co-op, with the majority of people already being familiar with the co-op concept.

We are therefore moving ahead with fundraising this summer.  The date the store will open depends on how fast the funds are raised.

We are looking for new members.  However, the bulk of the fundraising will come from members who make loans to the Co-op, which it will pay back with interest over time. 

We need a few new Board members (if you have experience being a member of a co-op in the past, or have business or financial experience), and we need volunteers in general to help with the fundraisers.”

Like their Facebook page for regular updates at  http://www.facebook.com/peoriaharvestcoop

Learn more at Peoria Harvest Co-op

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The Hanna City Work Camp continues to be discussed among local farmers, city/county officials and food advocates.  Read the complete Hanna City Food Hub Charette developed following meetings in late 2012.  Additional ideas outlined in the proposal include a small farm incubator and farm to school learning lab.  This is truly exciting stuff for Central Illinois.  The group identified the land as the most important component of the project with existing buildings and infrastructure a secondary asset.  They felt that the small farm incubator and farm to school programs were of utmost importance, even beyond the establishment of a food hub.  The group did not believe the infrastructure on site was readily viable for a food hub nor did they feel the current number of producers in the area could sustain a hub.  It will remain a long-term strategy for the site.

The Army Corps of Engineers held public hearings in May discussing three options for necessary remediation – clean up of the site.  Issues with soil composition seem to be the main concern which would be important if the Hanna City proposal were to be approved.  Read more

Read more about the proposed transformation of the vacant Hanna City Work Camp

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Interesting article in the New York Times “The Food Truck Business Stinks” on food trucks in NYC who are being strangled by obscure regulations and the “food truck” police who hand out tickets like free samples at the grocery store.  I still don’t understand the issue – is it competition or health or money?  Maybe all three.  This still doesn’t get Peoria off the hook for voting down food trucks.

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How do you get more people and/or restaurants to serve more locally grown food?  Some argue there is a huge demand for local food and others say that people don’t want to pay the higher prices and they want strawberries every day of the year, not just in May.  I’ve heard local farmers say that people can’t even identify vegetables at their farm stand, let alone figure out how to cook with them.  Even slashing prices on their heirloom tomatoes doesn’t seem to make a difference to your average farmers market customer.  If more restaurants were using locally sourced food would that encourage home cooks to seek out and use the same ingredients?  Or perhaps develop a taste for tomatoes that actually taste like tomatoes?  It still seems very much like there are two camps – those that are happy purchasing everything from the grocery store at the lowest price available AND those that will seek out and find local foods even if it requires multiple stops and more money.

But there is so much more to this very complicated equation.  What if 3 new farm-to-table restaurants opened in Peoria (wishful thinking) and Schnuck’s decided to sell only locally grown produce?  There is still the major logistical problem of finding the farmer’s who want to sell; who are farming enough to meet demand; and the number one challenge of getting product from the farm to point-of-sale.

Even in Chicago with so many more consumers and restaurants demanding local food, the logistics are stifling.  Here’s a great article “Locavorism Inc.” in the Chicago Reader about a couple guys trying to figure it all out.  It gives you a good reality check if you know nothing about the myriad issues surrounding aggregation centers, or Food Hubs, the one-stop shop for both farmers and consumers.

“…you have a beef guy, you have a lamb guy, you have a chicken guy, you have a greens guy, an arugula dude, a turnip guy, and a tomato dude. It just gets to be crazy after a while.”  One Chicago chef discussing how he sources his local food (which is pretty much what consumers are doing too if they care about what they eat).

Central Illinois continues to debate the fate of the deserted Hanna City Work Camp and if it can be turned into not only a food hub but also an incubator and training facility for small farmers.  More on that later.

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I attended the “Farm to Table” workshop at the Central Illinois Green Expo last Friday morning to learn more about the issues surrounding local food systems and locally grown foods.  A representative from the Edible Economy Project gave an overview of their project which is working to create three pilot food hubs in Central Illinois (Peoria, Bloomington, and possibly Decatur) to address issues of transportation and logistics in getting local foods to the people, suppliers and restaurants who want it; as well as a representative from the Spence Farm Foundation, promoting and teaching sustainable small family farming, which grew out of Spence Farm, the oldest family farm in Livingston County.  These are exciting projects doing innovative things for the local food movement.  A diverse panel of local farmers and chefs from June restaurant and Harvest Cafe in Delavan, discussed the real world challenges facing both suppliers and buyers.  There are definitely issues of education, of both chefs and farmers, of things like “not all the tomatoes you order will be the same size and shape” to “no, I can’t harvest 100 lbs of XYZ in 1 hour”.  Like most things in life, it’s complicated and inter-connected.  People are making it happen because they are passionate, energetic, and of the “not getting paid” type, “but that’s okay”.  I guess that’s why this business and these issues are so fascinating to me – this un-wavering commitment to something that is good for them, good for all of us and good for the earth.  For many, it boils down to educating the average consumer about the benefits of local food and convincing them to purchase it and support those businesses that use it.

If you want to eat and/or buy locally in Central Illinois, the Illinois Stewardship Alliance has a 2012 “Buy Fresh Buy Local” guide available for download with a listing of restaurants, farms, grocery stores, and farmer’s markets who offer locally grown food.  I found a lot of places I never knew about (not many in Peoria, but all well).

Shout outs to Anne at Living Earth Farm and Anthony at ICC for a great presentation and Expo.

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The food industry is all a-buzz since NPR released their story “Why Organic Food May Not Be Healthier For You” last week.  Based on studies already conducted (of which there are few) Stanford University concluded there are no significant, documented health benefits from eating organic.  From the inflammatory headline to the construction of the story, NPR reporters put all the hot “sound-bites” first lambasting organic and then at the end of the story explained that maybe this is a larger issue and gee, maybe we shouldn’t rush to conclusions.  Well, a little late, since the average listener has already made conclusions based on the first 4 minutes of the 5 minute story!

The Illinois Local and Sustainable Agriculture LinkedIn group posted an interesting response from Michael Pollan from a news blog that put things into perspective a bit less sensationally than the NPR piece.

Come on NPR, you are usually the last, great hope for good journalism!  This story should have been written as a scientific debate of the studies and the issues not a headline-grubbing, hits-busting, piece.

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How often do I think about how food arrives at the grocery store?  Um, never.  It’s magically re-stocked with all my favorites every time I arrive, except maybe on Monday nights at Schnucks when it’s a ghost town.  Then I’m simply annoyed that I can’t buy what I need and irritatingly think “why is there no food at the grocery store ?”.  Food tends to have a long and circuitous route.  A recent article, “From Farm to Plate“, in the September issue of iBi, stated that “…the average fruit or vegetable purchased in the Midwest travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate,…”.  So how does it stay looking so fresh and lovely?  Well, often it’s picked early so it ripens on the way or it’s been bred to death.  In the end, looks have replaced flavor.  The iBi article optimistically explains that the interest in local food is on the rise among not only restauranteurs but the average consumer.  That said, we go back to how it conveniently gets to my grocery store down the street.  Not an easy answer come to find out.  In my very basic understanding of the issues, Farmer John has 3 tomatoes to sell and Gi-normous Grocery Store needs 5,000.  GG can’t be bothered.  Alas, Farmer Bob has about 4,000 tomatoes but GG needs them washed, packaged, labelled and delivered by tomorrow.  FB has only 5 field hands, a couple of kids, and a farm dog.  For local food to really take hold, there needs to be infrastructure in place to support it –  aggregating (bringing all the food to one place), processing, distribution, and then marketing and sales.  Most small farms don’t have the resources or the staff to put that kind of system in place so we need “Food Hubs”.  A network of these aggregating/processing/distribution centers to help them.  Then GG buys from the Hub, Farmer Bob gets a fair price, and we the consumer get a high quality product which supports our own economy, not Venezuela.  I think we just need a few CAT logistics people to figure this whole thing out – build a structure for Illinois – and then model it across the country.  But I don’t claim to know the whole story.  I’m having lunch with a local farmer this week so I’ll ask her for the real Farmer scoop.  Like most things in life, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than we know (or tend to think about).  More later . . .

Additional Notes posted 9/15/12:
My  lunch with two local farmers and food activists this past week was a treasure-trove of ideas, thoughts, opinions, and, oh, good food!  It was a beautiful day to eat outside.  Here’s more. . .
So the food hubs are important in their opinion and Heartland Community College in Normal is working in partnership with Edible Economy to try to make that happen with the help of a USDA grant.  But at least one other key piece of the puzzle in their opinion is consumer education.  People don’t know how to cook – they don’t recognize ingredients – they don’t go in the kitchen anymore except to eat their frozen entrée from the microwave.  Part of the challenge is to get the average consumer back cooking in the kitchen.  Maybe it’s time or maybe it’s education, or fear, or lack of interest, or picky kids, or a combination of all and more, but any movement back to a local food system needs to get more than a subset of consumers on board.

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