- Education and Training: display, extension, focus group, participatory research, workshop
- Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, market study, marketing management
- Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, social capital
Local food systems in Central Illinois were studied to document their potential as a strategy for community and economic development in rural communities. The project analyzed five key components of local food systems in Illinois: direct-market producers, institutional and commercial food buyers, farmers’ markets, alternatives to farmers’ markets, and individual consumers. Data analysis of contrasts between rural and urban local food markets, consumer shopping preferences for locally grown food, and techniques for working with community leaders to develop public infrastructure and awareness for local food were used to create strategies for building successful local food projects in rural communities.
The idea of developing local food systems is an attractive one, but the “how to” of developing local sources and markets for food is often a stumbling block. Even as consumers are shopping at farmers’ markets, subscribing to community supported agriculture operations, dining at restaurants that buy locally, and developing new relationships with farmers, more would be better. The resource guide created from this project describes factors that contribute to the success or challenges of local food system projects. As Illinois communities develop local food systems and support existing projects, what can others learn from their experiences? This guide provides some of the answers that farmers, consumers and communities can use to develop local food systems.
Short term outcomes of the project include increased understanding of effective strategies that promote the development of local food systems. As we documented this information, we provided feedback to case study participants to help them understand the needs of the food system in their communities, and methods to increase awareness of the economic impacts of local food markets among economic development leaders, local food business owners, and consumers. With this increased understanding and some practical examples in mind, producers will have additional tools to develop local market opportunities.
Intermediate outcomes of the project focus upon using the lessons learned through our case studies, with the expectation that more producers will use the strategies we advocate as a way to engage new audiences in their promotion of local foods. This information will help producers to understand consumers’ and institutional food buyers’ purchasing behaviors, policy needs for developing local food systems, and other issues to facilitate involvement of the community in developing local food systems.
Long term, we would like to see the manual help create economically viable food sheds in rural Illinois. By providing producers with guidelines and practical examples of two successful rural marketing ventures, we anticipate that producers will have the tools to develop viable markets closer to home while contributing to the economic stability of their communities. Among consumers, local elected officials, and economic development directors, we hope to increase the acceptance and support of local food systems.