It’s a part of the chain as old as farming itself – taking the goods to market. But the use of “food hubs,” designed to speed up the process for local farmers, has taken root in neighboring states more quickly than in Illinois. That has some leaders and researchers concerned Illinois is losing ground in the “locavore” movement. The Illinois Department of Agriculture, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, University of Illinois Business Innovation Services, and FamilyFarmed.org have combined on a new guidebook intended to help create such hubs – aggregators – in Illinois.
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“Bottom line is, Illinois is a $50 billion market for food, and less 5 percent is grown locally, in state,” says Jim Slama, president of FamilyFarmed.org. “We want to make that 25 percent, and we’re working to do whatever it takes to build that supply chain.” Tim Lindsey, director of energy and sustainable business programs with the U. of I. Business Innovation Services, says while Illinois is one of the leading states in farmers’ markets, it’s well behind states such as Wisconsin and Michigan in the development of food hubs. “Some Illinois farmers are taking their product up there,” he says. DCEO director Warren Ribley introduced the guidebook at the Illinois Specialty Crop Growers Association conference in Springfield.