Community Food Systems

Food insecurity is everywhere.

One in five Illinois residents experience hunger. Many residents live in food deserts with no access to healthy, affordable food. At Illinois Extension, we're working to strengthen food systems across the state so families have the food they need. From growing to access, communities can only be as strong as their access to food. We have research-based information to help growers of all types: urban-based producers, beginning farmers, farmers markets, organic growers. 

It starts with a plan.

We provide the tools for conducting surveys, assessing opportunities and defining clear paths forward to connect residents with the essential food services they need to be healthy. 


This is how a southern Illinois community addressed food insecurity.

children in costumes learning about vegetables
University of Illinois Extension SNAP-Ed professionals teach children to enjoy vegetables from the Mount Vernon Community Gardens, located in Veterans Park in Mt. Vernon, Ill.

A town planning session facilitated by Illinois Extension blossomed into a project that attracted hundreds of volunteers, fed dozens of families, and became a point of pride for an economically distressed neighborhood.

The Mount Vernon Community Gardens, located in the town’s Veterans Park, are part of an 86-acre oasis that is situated in a neighborhood where 30% of residents live below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census data. That’s nearly twice the Jefferson County rate and more than double that of the U.S.

The project launched in 2016 when Mount Vernon City Councilman Donte Moore and others invited Pam Schallhorn, Extension community and economic development specialist, to lead a town hall meeting aimed at envisioning such a garden. Schallhorn, like other Extension educators, uses Extension's Community Planning Program to provide evidence-based training in community and economic development to local community leaders, economic development professionals, and other stakeholders. 

Community gardens have the power to transform the way we care for ourselves, each other and our land for generations to come. I hope to continue to play a role in projects like this one for many years to come, in my community, in the hopes we can continue to improve the way we live and thrive alongside one another, and care for the land on which we live. - Rachel Hunsell, Mount Vernon community member

Read their results.

We're here to support you.

Pam Schallhorn

Pam Schallhorn

Extension Specialist - Region 2 Community & Economic Development
Economic Development
Consumer Economics
Community Development
Downtown Development
Community Planning
Managing Stress
Mental Health
(217) 782-4617