Local foods undergoing a resurgence

By Robert and Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Interest in local foods continues to grow nationally and within the region. Farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSA), food stores, restaurants, schools and institutions are increasing the availability of locally produced meat, vegetables, fruits and other products.

Consumers are interested in local foods for various reasons. They include the recognition that local foods are fresh, involve fewer miles travelled, are less likely to rely on artificial fertilizers and pesticides, provide jobs and retain income in their communities.

Farmers markets and CSAs can help to revitalize social networks within communities as consumers get to know local farmers and interact with others interested in local foods. They are a new meeting place and add an appealing element as tourist attractions. They are receiving increasing visibility in the media with print, radio and television announcements informing the public of their availability.

The increased consumption of local foods has supported local food processing and distribution systems. Computer networks have developed to increase food diversity and availability. Online services connecting producers with consumers who can order specific foods directly are being developed.

The topic has been an important feature of the Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle (Sustainability) Fair for years. Dan Kenny will provide an update on the exciting work being done in DeKalb County to build a sustainable local food security system which will help them better withstand coming volatility resulting from climate change. His featured presentation, Building Resilient Communities in Turbulent Times, will be offered on Saturday.

Two workshops will present aquaponics, a low-impact process of producing food in a closed system growing fish and vegetables for food in which fish fertilize the plants and plants feed the fish. Auburn High School sociology students led by instructor Tim Bratina will describe how concern with hunger in America led them to build aquaponics and more recently microgreens stations as alternative ways to grow food. Mitch Heldt will have a small model of his aquaponics system to demonstrate its principles and use. Watch for announcements of the Fair schedule.

Other foods workshops will include solar cooking by Sherry Piros, Lucky Larson and Lin Vogl, easy bread baking and cheese making by Lin Vogl and acquisition and processing of large and small game by Roland Wolff. Judy Speer will teach her audience how to grow self-supporting plant communities that provide a nourishing harvest and benefit the local web of life. Speer’s workshop will be on Sunday. The others will be spread throughout the Fair weekend.

A local organic farmer will offer produce or sale. Auburn High School students will have a model of an aquaponics station on display.

Other exhibits featuring not foods, but other local products include handmade soap from the Oregon Soap Shoppe and high quality native woodland and prairie plants by Red Buffalo. The Wild Ones, a nonprofit organization that teaches people how to use native plants in their landscapes, will offer tips and getting started.

An information table will provide a spot for fairgoers to share their printed  materials with others. Some will focus on food production.

Major sponsors of the Fair are the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Rock River Times, Northern Public Radio and the Ogle County Solid Waste Management Department.

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