|By TIM ALEXANDER
EL PASO, Ill. — Furrow Vineyard and Winery of Woodford County, Ill. was the recipient of a $21,000 specialty crop grant issued by Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s Opportunity Returns program.
The grant was one of several issued in December to support value-added agriculture projects in the northern regions of Illinois that will help promote the state’s burgeoning wine industry and specialty crop markets.
By issuing a total of $95,000 to nine grant recipients, the state hopes to encourage growth in niche markets of Illinois agriculture.
Blagojevich said the funds will help the small and medium-size specialty crop businesses and markets get the word out about their products.
According to the winery’s co-owner Wayne Furrow, the funds will be used for promoting Furrow’s Red Barn Village, an agritourism attraction located on the same parcel of land as the family’s winery featuring homegrown pumpkins, apples and gourds.
Though the attraction has been open to the public for two seasons, Furrow said that promoting the “Village” has been slow going.
“We’re still trying to let people know we’re here,” said Furrow, who plans to spend the money on brochures, inserts, and possibly a billboard advertisement designed to help lure nearby interstate travelers to the site.
He said the advertising push will help attract tourists to the Village just in time for a planned expansion to the site.
“The plans are to maybe have a bakery there, along with more things for kids to do, such as hay rides, a straw castle and a hay maze,” said Furrow, who diversified his farm by planting a vineyard and joining the state’s growing list of family-run wineries a few years back. “We call (the Village) a ‘fun farm,’ but it’s also a working farm in that we grow produce for purchase.”
Growing produce on-site was essential to landing the grant, Furrow explained.
“This whole grant has to do with specialty crops, and part of the stipulation is that you have to grow a certain percent of your own product,” Furrow said. “We qualify by growing our own pumpkins, gourds and such.”
After learning of the grant’s availability, the Furrows turned to a professional to write a grant request for the winery. After submitting the request, the family “crossed our fingers and waited,” Furrow said.
As a grant recipient, the Furrows will be required to affix a state logo promoting agritourism and specialty crops on all flyers, brochures, or other advertising generated through the money provided by the grant.
“Not only will we be promoting our own situation, but also the whole state’s (agritourism and specialty crops) situation,” said Furrow of the state logo.
The family decided to open Red Barn Village after the family farm’s signature barn began to fall into disrepair.
“Three years ago we re-sided (the barn) and fixed it all up, and decided to make it the centerpiece of our Red Barn Village. We either had to tear the barn down or refurbish it … now we’re trying to generate some income to pay for the repairs we did,” Furrow explained.
The family has plans to expand the concessions available at the Village and make them available an all business days, instead of weekends only. The Village is open September through late November.
Other specialty crop grant recipients in northern Illinois included Prairie House Vineyard & Winery in Henry County, Savanna Cellars Winery & Vineyard of Savanna, the Downtown Bloomington Farmer’s Market Assoc., Green Acres Herb Farm in Lowpoint, the Stark County Farm Bureau, Tanners Orchard of Speer, and the Woodstock and Kankakee County farmer’s markets.
Blagojevich’s Opportunity Returns program is a regional economic development strategy the governor’s office describes as “the most aggressive, comprehensive approach to creating jobs in Illinois’ history … Opportunity Returns is about tangible, specific actions to make each region more accessible, more marketable, more entrepreneurial, and more attractive to business.”
Nearly all of the $95,000 allotted through the grant is expected to be used for promotional efforts such as advertisements, according to the press release issued by the governor’s office.
This farm news was published in the February 1, 2006 issue of Farm World.