Thursday, February 25, 2010

Growing Hope!

Just when the winter blues and economy woes had me in a headlock, I attended a panel on local foods last night hosted by CCNET and grew a new attitude: hope!

I gave an audible affirmation when Erin Harper, a member of Engineers Without Borders at Illinois, spoke of efforts to create a community garden at Washington School in Urbana. I learned that the school board has approved a community garden curriculum at Washington and that each class will grow food and take it home and perhaps one day sell it at a local food stand.

I was blown away when I learned from Zachary Grant, Student Farm Coordinator at the Department of Crop Sciences at Illinois, that they are in their second year of production and that 100% of their produce goes to campus dining services and they have a dream of becoming a teaching farm.

So when Dawn Aubrey, senior assistant director of university housing told us that she is able to use vegetables from the student farm in the 24,000 meals housing provides to students daily, I thought, "That's incredible!" But there's more: one of their future goals is to compost food waste to be used on the student farm.

Lisa Bralts, director of Market at the Square, the Urbana-based Farmer's Market, said the market has been on-going for 30 years and the city has managed it since the 1990s. The city is doing a strategic plan for the market and would like your input here Market at the Square Strategic Planning Survey.

I had remembered that I was once a member of Community Supported Agriculture after Diann Moore of Moore Family Farm in Watseka told the audience that for $400 a season you can get pesticide-free vegetables and recipes to cook 'em and instructions to store 'em. Participants pick up their vegetables once a week at a drop-off location in Urbana or Champaign.

I am glad to be a member of Common Ground in Urbana, one of 2,400 people, according to Jacqueline Hannah, general manager. She told us that the Co-op is now open to the public and 80% of their revenue comes from owners. They sell locally grown foods produced within 150 miles of Urbana.

And then there was Wes Jarrell who started Prairie Fruits Farm, in 2003. They produce milk and cheese, grow organic fruits and berries and do a lot of public education around local foods. He told us of a "100 yard dinner" they had at the farm in which everything that was eaten was grown within 100 yards of the table.

I left the panel discussion feeling good about the local foods movement in the region. And tonight I am going to call in during Illinois Gardener, to ask experts there how I might start a vegetable garden on my roof!

Hope and inspiration. They feed me, too.

Kimberlie Kranich is director of community engagement at Illinois Public Media and may be reached at