Farm-to-table series brings local flavors to Champaign-Urbana restaurants, grocery stores


Tyler Courtney | The Daily Illini

As part of the Local Flavors of Central Illinois series, Milo’s Restaurant in Urbana featured a farm-to-table dinner menu with fresh, locally-grown food on Thursday, July 2. Pictured are three of the choices offered: (top left) Blue Moon Farm green with farm-fresh crispy egg, grilled asparagus and basil vinaigrette; (top right) Blue Moon Farm green and roasted beets and Prairie Fruits Farm goat cheese, toasted almonds and basil vinaigrette; and (front) rosemary-lemon roasted Triple S Farm half chicken with wild rice pilaf and Blue Moon Farm zucchini.

By Senait Gebregiorgis

Fresh, locally-grown food will be served at select restaurants in Champaign-Urbana over the next few months, courtesy of Buy Fresh and Buy Local Central Illinois, a chapter established under the Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA) that encourages community support of local farms and produce.

On every first and third
Thursday of the month from June to October, Buy Fresh and Buy Local Central Illinois’ series called Local Flavors farm-to-table is hosting events at
restaurants and grocery stores where locally-grown produce will be offered to diners and customers. Participating businesses include Common Ground Food Co-op, Bacaro, and Big Grove Tavern. 

ISA is a statewide nonprofit organization
that supports local food and sustainable farming. ISA helped develop the Local Flavors farm-to-table series eight
years ago in Springfield. After much success, it later expanded in
cities across Central Illinois, such as Bloomington-Normal, Champaign-Urbana, and Peoria. Customers have the opportunity to enjoy locally-grown lunch and
dinner specials at given restaurants listed on the Buy Fresh Buy Local Central Illinois‘ website.

Lindsay Record, program director of ISA, said the goal from the start was to
help raise awareness for local food and increase sales for farmers.

“We felt like if people were aware that they could get locally-produced food in any given restaurant, they’d be more likely to go out and
support local farmers,” Record said. “I remember a conversation with
a farmer who’s closer to Champaign-Urbana, and at the time he was selling into
both Springfield and Champaign, and he said, ‘Lindsay, my sales at restaurants are
doing great in Springfield, and it’s all because of Local Flavors — I need you
to start it in Champaign-Urbana!'”

Champaign partners for the ISA’s Local Flavors series include Urbana’s
Market at the Square and The Land Connection, which assist with promoting the events.

Natalie Kenny Marquez, director of Urbana’s Market at the Square, said the
collaboration between farmers and restaurants can help increase sales for both

“One of the big pushes they do each year is to try to get restaurants
and restaurant owners and chefs into a relationship with a farmer or multiple
farmers so that it benefits all parties,” Marquez said. “It’s an
extension of supporting your local farmers and learning about what’s in season
in Illinois; and the items that are in season are the freshest and the ones
that will taste best.”

Jeff Hake, farmer training program manager at The Land Connection, said a lot
of hard work is dedicated to spreading information about the Local
Flavors farm-to-table series to the Champaign-Urbana community.

“What (ISA) does is help figure out which restaurants we’re going to
be doing (Local Flavors events) in and help the restaurants coordinate where
they’re going to be buying their stuff from, and that work is a lot,” Hake said. “So what’s important for us to do is to help get the word out, because this is our community here in Urbana, and we know it very well, so we’ve
been getting the word out on social media, in our weekly newsletter, at our farmer’s
market table, and every way that we can.” 

The Local
Flavors farm-to-table series’ next event will be on Thursday, July 16, at the Hendrick House from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Hake will also be in attendance as a representative in order to answer any customers’ questions about the organization or local flavors being served.

Diane McNattin, manager of Hendrick House, said they don’t yet know what the Local Flavors menu specials will include.

“Everything revolves around the calendar – the growth calendar – what’s available and what’s coming out of the fields,” McNattin said.
“That’s the whole heart of eating local, is being able to eat what’s available
right now, so that’s pretty much what determines our menu.”

The restaurants will still be running business as usual and serving regular
menu items when hosting the Local Flavors event. Customers won’t have to make
any reservations, and can show up at the given time listed on the website, then order the “Local Flavors” specials of the day.

Marquez said the Local Flavors farm-to-table series is not only
exciting for the organization’s purpose, but it is also exciting for the
Champaign-Urbana community.

“We live in a state where we have some amazing produce and a pretty
decent growing season based on our weather,” Marquez said. “And
so I think it’s a great opportunity to get out of the house and still be able
to support your local farmers, support your local restaurants and business owners, and eat a fantastic meal that will be fresh and tasty.”