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Illinois ag office gives specialty crop grants
Illinois Correspondent

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Several Illinois specialty crop producers received grant money from Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich recently for a variety of value-added agricultural projects. Most grants were for promotional materials to share their products with buyers in Illinois, across the United States and around the world.

“Every day, more and more people are discovering the wealth of quality, homegrown products available in Illinois, and the demand for those products continues to rise,” Blagojevich said.

“These funds will help small and medium-size specialty crop businesses get the word out about their products, including fresh fruits and vegetables, making them more accessible to consumers, encouraging growth, creating additional jobs and building tourism in their region and throughout the state.”

M & G Foods of Hamilton, Ill. received a grant for $4,083. The grant was awarded for M&G to assist with development and printing of color brochures, fliers, posters, billboards and newspaper advertisements in Chicago to promote their hot pepper business. According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA), “M&G Foods in Hamilton has been growing a variety of hot peppers on a small scale in the State of Illinois for many years. Homegrown peppers are used to make the company’s brand name salsa, hot sauces and jellies.”

Another central Illinois recipient is Curtis Orchard Ltd., of Champaign, Ill. Curtis Orchard received $17,300 for billboard, radio, television and newspaper advertising. The IDOA said, “Curtis Orchards and Pumpkin Patch in Champaign is a year round agritourism/specialty crop business and one of the largest businesses of its kind in a 12-county region encompassing about a 60-mile radius. The orchard hosts more than 160,000 visitors annually.”

Hudson Farm of Hindsboro, Ill. also received funds to the tune of $8,000 for print, radio and billboard advertising. This farm and “u-pick” operation is a third and fourth generation farm that has accomplished its goal of increasing local awareness of its strawberry and sweet corn business.

While at first it seems like an unlikely recipient, Downtown Springfield, Inc. received $25,000 for print, television and billboard advertising to promote the Old Capitol Farmers Market. Grant funding would be used to increase the awareness of the market by utilizing billboards around the Springfield area. Billboards would serve as a daily reminder that the market provides fresh, locally grown produce. The Old Capitol Farmers’ Market has been operating for the past five years and has grown steadily. The market now fills two city blocks and showcases more than 60 specialty crop growers.

In southern Illinois, Belle Vue Farm of Palestine, Ill. received $2,000 to help tout its maple syrup products.

Buxton’s Garden Farm and Okaw Valley Orchard, both located in Sullivan, Ill., received a grant of $7,425 to help the businesses develop festival fliers and posters, newspaper inserts, brochures and additional advertising. Working together in a dual effort, the promotional outreach will be a team effort. Buxton’s Farm offers greenhouse plants, fresh vegetables and pumpkins, while Okaw Valley offers peaches, apples and baked goods.

Schwartz Farms of Centralia received a $10,000 grant for billboard, newspaper and radio advertising - as well as the development of brochures and more advertising for events for the farm. Schwartz Farms is a family-owned business producing a variety of specialty crops for more than 50 years.

Like the Downtown Springfield group, the Benton Farmers Market in Thompsonville, Ill. received $2,000 for development of promotional materials.

The Shawnee Hills Wine Trail located in Union and Jackson counties also received funds - $11,000 - to help with the promotion of the wine trail through billboards.

IDOA estimates, “Nearly 60 percent of the state’s wineries and about half of the state’s vineyards are located near the wine trail. Currently there are about 40,000 visitors who travel to the Shawnee Hills wineries each year. Utilizing grant money the group will develop and implement a billboard campaign to help encourage visitors to Southern Illinois to visit the wine trail.”

The Shawnee Winery Cooperative, located in Vienna, Ill., also received $10,000 for promotions. The Shawnee Winery Cooperative is a little more than one-year old, opening in November 2004. One of the benefits of belonging to this cooperative for grape producers/vintners is that wines sold through the Cooperative are made from 100 percent producer-member grapes unless in the event of a poor crop the Cooperative will purchase grapes from other Illinois vineyards. Wine is marketed at the retail level and via their website.

Another vineyard receiving funds was the StarView Vineyards located in Cobden, Ill. It received $12,341.50 to develop a brand awareness campaign.

Biver Farms located near Edwardsville, Ill. received $19,585. Grant monies are for marketing services and media relations including the development of print advertisements. Biver Farms represents an alliance of specialty crop growers in the Edwardsville area. Another familiar name in the metro St. Louis area is Eckert’s Inc., which received $3,000 to be used toward brochure and poster printing as well as the development of product recipe cards.

IDOA explained, “Eckert’s intends to use grant funds to help increase consumer awareness of the ‘homegrown difference’ to entice more individuals to visit their pick-your-own operation.”

Fieldon, Ill. is home to Joe Ringhausen Orchards. This six generations family run business offers apples, peaches, plums, pears, tomatoes, blackberries, raspberries, pumpkins, squash, peppers and cider. They received $5,000 to assist with radio, print and billboard advertising to promote Ringhausen Orchards.

Published in the December 14, 2005 issue of Farm World.