Strengthening local food systems has become a great source of hope for farmers, food buyers and educators, with the unifying push to foster collaboration. Recently, at the 2014 Local and Regional Food Summit hosted by Illinois Farm Bureau and Heartland Community College, stakeholders and activists were brought together to explore possibilities to work together toward a more sustainable food system. Some highlights from the summit:
Illinois food producers expressed optimism about the future because of changing attitudes about food, America's loyalty to support local farmers, and the need to be more sustainable considering gas prices and the drought in California. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, over a third of the country's vegetables and nearly two-thirds of the country's fruits and nuts were produced in California, bringing the vulnerability of our current system into question.
With increased science behind food choices combating illnesses, we are learning that if we include nutrient-rich foods like tomatoes, kale, broccoli, garlic and apples in our diet, we may be able to avoid illnesses like diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
Parents are turning from processed foods and feeding their children differently, with more fresh fruits and vegetables as well as connecting their children to the sources of their food.
Educating the consumer
Illinois Department of Agriculture referred to local fruit and vegetable farmers as "local celebrities" with a program specifically designed to market local produce at grocery stores in Illinois. The Illinois "Where Fresh Is" labeling program has been made available by the Illinois Department of Agriculture with cooperation from the Illinois Specialty Growers Association. Thanks to them, producers and retailers are able to use this label to help promote Illinois grown produce, fruits and other horticulture commodities.
Strengthening economy, ecosystem
Ronald Duncan, Community and Economic Educator for the University of Illinois, in Vienna, Ill., said if Southern Illinoisans would spend just $5 a week on local food the local economy would not only be stimulated but it would also combat one of their largest social issues: eating healthy to prevent disease.
The need to become more sustainable can be an economic opportunity for the state of Illinois to start producing more of its own food. With ideal soil, the hardworking ethic of an Illinois farmer and abundant groundwater, Illinois can become strong producers of vegetables and fruits.