Illinois movement supports locally grown food

Within the Sustainable Student Farm, located on the outskirts of campus, lies a half-acre plot filled with rows of vegetation. This plot belongs to Hendrick House and grows tomatoes, lettuce, beans and other vegetables to provide food for private certified housing on campus.

The farm is just one part of Illinois’ local food movement.

In August, Gov. Pat Quinn approved “Eat Local, Buy Illinois Products Day,” which is recognized statewide and will occur on the first Saturday of every month.

Naomi Jakobsson, D-103, co-sponsored the bill in the Illinois General Assembly before Quinn signed it into law.

“Well, I think it’s certainly a very good thing for this area, for economic development, for local businesses,” Jakobsson said. “Some of them are small and really trying to make it, and others have been around, but it’s also important to support them. It also helps people find out where all the products and local businesses are.”

This movement would promote the fresh produce from the Hendrick House plot, as well as other locally grown food.

Hendrick House Chef Ann Swanson is in charge of the plot, which she started preparing in May. With the plot, Swanson said her goal is for Hendrick House to become more sustainable by sourcing more than 95 percent of its vegetables through her.

“The benefits are just countless. One, it cuts down on emissions because you’re not shipping products across the country, (and) you can control exactly what you’re doing to the plants, so you know exactly how it’s going to taste,” she said. “Of course, it’s being harvested out of the ground that day, so you really can’t get a fresher product than what we’re serving right now.”

Drew Thomason, outreach coordinator at the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, said the day serves as a way to raise awareness about local food.

“It gives people a taste of buying local, and hopefully throughout the month they’ll (continue),” he said.

Thomason said the most quantifiable benefit of buying locally is its effect on the economy. He said Illinois consumers buy about $4.3 billion worth of food every year, with about $3.9 billion of that leaving the state and going to growers in California, Mexico and Florida.

“That is money that’s kind of being drained from our economy,” he said, “At the same time, we’ve got some of the best farmland in the world. So, what we’re saying is, use this day as a springboard to buy local to keep some of that money locally.”

He added that if Illinois consumers bought 15 percent of their food from local producers, it would bring $639 million into our economy annually. ISA has started a “10% Campaign” that asks chefs, cooks and restaurant owners to pledge to try and buy 10 percent of their food locally, according to the organization’s website.

Adam Whobrey, chef at Hendrick House, said the movement would help support local farmers and operations like the Sustainable Student Farm and the plot. Hendrick House provides food service for other housing units on campus, including Presby Hall, Armory House and more than 30 sororities and fraternities.

“As chefs, it’s important to us that the food is good,” Whobrey said. “‘You are what you eat,’ is what my mom always told me growing up. This is real food. This is the way that it’s supposed to be done.”

Eleanor can be reached at [email protected]