Local farmers and chefs encouraged to work together for food sustainability


Doug Gucker, Extension Educator for Local Food Systems and Small Farms, shows Lindsay Record, program director at the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, his business card at the Urbana Civic Center on Monday.

By Fatima Farha

For more sustainability and a better local economy, farms in Champaign-Urbana are producing food for local restaurants and dining halls.

Urbana’s Market at the Square hosted a chef-farmer mixer Monday afternoon at the Urbana Civic Center to help local farmers and chefs learn the importance of using and growing local produce.

Natalie Marquez, director of the Urbana’s Market at the  Square, said it is important for local farmers and chefs to network, and the mixer gives them the opportunity to work together to provide consumers with locally grown food.

“It gives farmers a chance to meet with the chefs and learn what they’re looking for,” Marquez said. “Farmers get a better understanding of how to build their wholesale accounts and growing for restaurants rather than just farmers’ markets.”

University Housing’s Dining Services is among those using local produce for its consumers.

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    Matt Turino, interim manager of the Student Sustainable Farm, said his organization grows food for both the dining halls and for educational purposes.

    Turino said it is an advantage for the dining halls, or for any restaurant, to use locally grown food because they know where their food comes from, and they know it’s fresh. 

    “Creating more robust agricultural systems is a very important thing for any area to be more self-sufficient,” Turino said. “We need to try as much as possible to create as much market for local produce so local economy can strengthen.”

    Farms and restaurants in Champaign-Urbana have also been collaborating to ensure more sustainable practices and fresher food for the community, along with a better local economy.

    The chef-farmer mixer included separate workshops for farmers and chefs, where each group will learn about how to work with the other, along with a networking session.

    During their workshops, Marquez said, farmers learn how to interact with chefs in terms of wholesale, while chefs learn about serving sustainable food in their restaurants from local farms in cost-effective ways.

    Allowing chefs and farmers the chance to work together by providing locally produced food to consumers benefits everyone, Marquez said. 

    The Illinois Stewardship Alliance organized the chef-farmer mixer, and also holds the event in Peoria, Bloomington and Springfield. 

    “Farmers can grow some new products because the restaurants want something that’s maybe different from what they sell in markets,” Marquez said.

    Dawn Aubrey, associate director of University dining services, said providing students with fresh, healthy and sustainable local farm food is a way for dining services to give students what they deserve. 

    “We view our commitment to sustainability with local food being a part of it as an obligation, it’s a necessity, it’s the right thing to do,” Aubrey said. “But most importantly we’re reflecting our students’ values.”

    Other local restaurants that serve food with locally grown farm produce include: Big Grove Tavern, Bacaro, Pizza M, The Dancing Dog Eatery & Juicery, Common Ground Food Co-op and Piato Cafe.

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