Archive for the ‘Growing your own food’ Category

Area food enthusiasts, local farmers, and sustainable food advocates are certainly enthused about the possibilities being discussed for the old Hanna City prison.  About 20 minutes from Peoria, the site could be a perfect Midwest training ground for a whole bunch of sustainable food efforts.

Peoria County acquired the 38.5 acres from the State of Illinois several years ago with strict stipulations on how it could be redeveloped.  I guess no one had any BIG ideas until now!  Previously utilized as a prison work camp, a home for boys and a 1950’s Air Force radar base, the walls could certainly tell some stories. The acreage includes residential buildings, classrooms, an institutional kitchen, a greenhouse, and a gymnasium as well as some pretty fertile soil. Most all of the buildings are structurally sound but the place has been empty since 2002 so it would take some serious clean-up and probably some demolition to get it up and going again.

Now for the BIG ideas …. the County hosted a planning charrette on December 8, 2012 to explore three different business models for redevelopment of the property:

1. Develop the property, utilizing the existing structures for development of a small farms incubator or training center.

2. Create a cooperative food hub with area producers, utilizing the buildings for aggregation and distribution.

3. Utilize the property for a farm to school laboratory, working with area schools to provide hands on learning opportunities.

There should be recommendations and a report based on the December planning meeting available soon.  For email updates, contact Kathie Brown, Extension Educator – Community & Economic Development at

Read more about the history and possible uses of the property:

This old prison in Illinois may be transformed into a farming paradise, grist, 12/20/12

Peoria County is working with ideas of how to use old prison at Hanna City, Peoria Journal Star, 12/3/12


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Like many industries, farming is struggling with succession plans – who will take over the family farm when Dad or Grandma says “No more”.  It can be heartbreaking when there is no one waiting in the wings who will continue to plant the garlic and weed the zucchini and milk the goats like it’s been done for the past 30 years.  There is some hope with the ever-growing interest in local food, but is it okay if the one who takes over for Dad isn’t part of the family?  IPR’s recent story “Farmer mentorships aim to help budding farmers” offers a solution that might “grow” more farmers to ensure our local farms continue to produce well into the future.

Basically, if you want to learn farming go work on a farm and see if you can hack it.  Seems like a great idea.  If you can deal with the back-breaking schedule and have a true passion for farming, then you have a mentor who can guide you along the way – a seasoned farmer who knows the ropes.  Speak to any industry icon – in real estate, computers, music, or medicine – and most will tell you they had a mentor who was instrumental in helping them meet their goals and truly succeed.

Unfortunately, fewer than half of those who participate in the farm mentorship program end up actually farming, but certainly they have a better understanding of local food and can be better advocates for the movement.  Maybe they don’t farm the land, but they write about it or they consume what is grown on it.  I think we are all a part of the equation if local food is to really take hold.

You can listen to other stories in Illinois Public Radio’s News Series, Farming:  A Growing Concern including:

Consumers have increased awareness of locally grown foods“, IPR, 9/28/12
High stakes for technological progress in agriculture“, IPR, 9/26/12
Immediate future of agriculture industry up in the air“, IPR, 9/25/12

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Remember those eternal ‘mom’ words “quit playing with your food”?  Well, maybe that’s not so bad these days in a world where many kids (and quite a few adults) have never seen vegetables growing in a field.  The extent of our interaction with fruits and vegetables is the grocery store aisles.  Everything looks pretty and fresh but who grew it, where did it come from, and what did it look like before it was harvested.  Even I don’t know the answer to that last question in many cases.  I’ve never seen an asparagus field or dug fresh potatoes or shelled English peas (until last weekend).  We need to get back ‘in touch’ with our food, especially our kids.  Growing, cooking, eating, and learning about the farmers who are responsible for this bounty on our tables.  We need a resurgence of those Home Economics classes from high school revamped for today’s world.  I found a local farm near Peoria that offers ‘Farm Camp’ – Summer camp at the farm!  How fun would that be?  According to my 8-year old, not very.  Maybe someone needs to develop a computer game – ‘The Farm’ – run and operate your own !  In the meantime, we’ll visit the Farmer’s Market each week and keep touching and eating new things.

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