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University of Illinois Extension

Strengthening Local Food Opportunities

February 11, 2013

On a cold winter day in December, University of Illinois Extension convened a group of more than 50 farmers, local food advocates, advisors and local officials. They were all there for one reason: an interest in strengthening local foods opportunities in the Peoria region. The planning event was organized at the request of Peoria County Board, to assist in their deliberations for repurposing the abandoned prison facility near Hanna City.

Closed in 2002 for budgetary reasons, the state signed over the prison camp (approximately 40 acres and buildings) to Peoria County in 2008. But the gift came with conditions and strict instructions; the Hanna City facility cannot be developed or sold. And, if rejuvenated, it must be done for public use only. Also, since it remains an active radar center run by the FAA to track aircraft, nothing metal can be built close by.

Conversations in December focused on opportunities for three different concepts:

Creation of a food hub, a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand.

Develop a small farm incubator, a nonprofit distribution model providing production and marketing services to aspiring farmers. This educational training model could combine elements of a food hub providing combined brokering and transportation logistics for a small number of farm enterprises located on the work camp.

Create a farm to school learning laboratory for area schools where students engage with interdisciplinary learning opportunities around food. Science, math, reading, and health subjects are all addressed in the context of local foods. Students participate in all aspects of growing, harvesting, and preparing nutritious, seasonal produce during the academic day and in after school classes.

Summaries of the discussions were presented to Peoria County Board for consideration in January.

For more information about the Community and Economic Development programs in the Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Extension unit, please contact Kathleen Brown, Extension Educator, Community and Economic Development at brownlk@illinois.edu or 309-255-9189.

University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment.

Source: Kathie Brown, Extension Educator, Community and Economic Development, brownlk@illinois.edu

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