Farmers in Central Illinois who grow almost anything besides corn and soybeans lack the infrastructure needed to expand their operations and sell more food to people in their own communities. This limits both the growth of their farms and the options of buyers to source fresh food grown locally.
With the opportunities available and the progress already made in Mt. Pulaski to address issues in our food system, we knew we wanted to tackle this problem, but we had to choose somewhere to start. Early in our planning, we saw the best opportunity was to address the inability of produce growers to sell their vegetables to schools, hospitals, and other larger buyers in a consistent and meaningful way. Those kinds of buyers want to serve fresh foods, but because of constraints related to price, seasonality, labor, and efficiency, their efforts often fall short.
We plan to tackle this problem by capturing and freezing our local harvest at its peak freshness.
The primary way in which we will do this is by establishing contracts with growers and buyers in the winter months, allowing both parties to plan ahead for the coming year. When harvest time comes, growers will harvest fresh crops in bulk, and immediately sell them to our cooperative, reducing much or all of their responsibility for storage, distribution, and marketing. Once we have processed and frozen the crops, we are then ready to distribute it to our contracted buyers.
However, we also will be equipped to offer other resources and services to our community of growers and eaters: a rentable commercial kitchen, rentable cold storage, custom fresh food processing, and more (see “Operations” for more details). And down the line, this cooperative’s success could be a springboard to expand into new kinds of infrastructure under the FarmFED umbrella, or other cooperatives in our region, forming a network of local food facilities.
Our local food system has a long way to go to come back to life. We hope this is a next step along that path of revival and that much more can emerge from it, so we can create a robust local food system that underpins our economy and way of life here in Central Illinois.