I had the pleasure of attending the Southern Illinois Local Food Tour and Roundtable event in late September both as a local vegetable farmer and a navigator for Illinois FarmLink. At Illinois FarmLink we believe that efforts to improve our food and farming system must include land access, and we want to make sure that perspective is shared with local legislators.
Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA) organized the event with the goal of bringing local farmers, legislators, and organizations together to build relationships and discuss successes and challenges faced in the local food system. The event included a tour and discussion at Pink Tiger Farm in Goreville (Johnson County) as well as a roundtable discussion at Glacier’s End storefront located in Marion (Williamson County).
Kyle McAdams and Brian Elias, owners of Pink Tiger Farm, began the event with a tour of their farm operation. Pink Tiger Farm grows numerous pepper varieties, ginger, turmeric, and other specialty crops which they use in their value-added products, including vinegars, spices, and hot sauces. Participants then toured Pink Tiger’s new commercial kitchen and heard about the challenges that cottage food producers face when trying to expand their operation to serve a larger audience.
Dialogue amongst farmers and legislators also touched on small-scale livestock production. Elycia and TJ Freeman from Well House Farmstead described the difficulties they’ve had getting processing dates for their lambs, a concern that was echoed by many other farmers in attendance. The group discussed the need for either more processing facilities that cater to smaller producers or a mobile processing facility which could serve multiple regions across Illinois.
The group then reconvened at Glacier’s End storefront. Derek and Libby Ervin shared their story and discussed how their business has contributed to the revitalization of downtown Marion. The conversation turned towards discussing broader challenges in the food and agriculture system including food deserts in southern Illinois, hunger in rural schools, farming strategies for climate resilience, accessing programs and grants, and many others.
In my opinion, although many topics were discussed, the most important outcome of this event was the building and bolstering of relationships between local organizations, farmers, and legislators. Though local agriculture faces many challenges, this event displayed that farmers have the support of legislators and local organizations. We would like to thank ISA for inviting us to help support larger efforts towards building a better food system for our region. The Land Connection and its Illinois FarmLink firmly believe that working cooperatively with other organizations can help us all make a greater impact.
Southern Illinois Navigator