By STEVE BINDER
CARBONDALE, Ill. — State agriculture leaders want to reverse a trend of locals buying out-of-state products – while selling most of their own ag products to out-of-state consumers.
So, the Illinois Department of Agriculture unveiled a new campaign last week and hopes to capitalize on the growing movement for consumers to buy more locally made products.
Called “Where Fresh Is,” the new marketing strategy aims to convince more residents throughout the state to buy local, particularly because about 90 percent of the homemade and homegrown items are sold to places far from Illinois.
When a study covering the 23 southernmost counties in Illinois was completed last year, it showed of the $1.8 billion spent on food in the region, about $1.7 billion of it was used to buy products made from outside the state.
“Much of what is grown here is for large commodity markets,” said Dayna Conner, executive director of Food Works, a regional group with promoting locally grown products as one of its main goals. “Of the $1.8 billion southern Illinois residents spend on food each year, $1.7 billion of that is spent on food from far-flung places.”
If more people in Illinois bought products grown in the state it would have a huge economic impact, according to state Ag Director Bob Flider. “A robust local food industry holds great promise for rural and urban communities alike,” he said.
“If Illinois could increase the amount of money spent on locally grown food to just 10 percent of its total grocery bill, thousands of jobs and more than $20 billion a year in economic activity would be generated.”
Flider’s department is now accepting applications from grocery stores and farmers’ markets for free, point-of-sale items that can distinguish Illinois items from others for sale. A USDA specialty crops grant is paying for the program, and the grant will cover materials for up to 200 grocery stores and 100 farmers’ markets.
These include a self-standing vinyl banner and one roll of 1,000-count product stickers. It is part of $633,820 in USDA grant funding awarded to 13 projects in Illinois this year.
Applications for materials are due by Feb. 15, and they will be sent out no later than March 15, according to the IDOA. Application forms are available at www.agr.state.il.us
Flider said the state is appreciative of the USDA. “(The grant) will raise awareness about the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables that are available here, and help consumers make food choices that improve not only their health, but also the health of their local economy,” he added.