Illinois FarmFED Co-Op Empowers Regional Farmers
An ambitious project underway in Mt. Pulaski, located near Springfield, will help bridge the gap between local farmers and community members that want more access to food grown in Central Illinois than is currently available.
The Farm-Fresh Enterprise Development Cooperative (FarmFED Co-op) will operate a facility that preserves the freshness and nutrition of local food through processing and freezing, allowing growers to bring bulk produce to the facility and make it available in a form suited for larger buyers such as schools, hospitals and retail grocery stores.
Katie Funk and Jeff Hake, who farm Funks Grove Heritage Fruits and Grain, near Bloomington, are the driving forces behind the co-op. They have initiated a campaign to raise $100,000 by October 1 from shares purchased by the region’s farmers that want to use the facility and its services. Shares confer the ability to vote on decisions for the cooperative, with three different levels providing benefits to owners. The initial funding will allow them to break ground on the facility this winter and become operational by June 2022.
“With this fundraising effort, we will start turning all our planning into something real,” says Katie Funk. “It is critical we put our work out in front of everyone and get buy-in from our community. We are thrilled to be part of something that can offer so many benefits to our community and farmers.”
Led by a board of local farmers and advocates, the co-op plans to purchase the former Johnson True Value Hardware Store in Mt. Pulaski and upgrade it to accommodate a processing line, commercial kitchen and 4,000 square feet of cold storage. Farmers will be able to sell produce to the cooperative, obtain custom processing and rent cold storage space. Local food entrepreneurs will be able to rent the commercial kitchen space to grow their businesses in a licensed facility. The co-op will also bring new jobs to the community as skilled staff will be required to manage it.
Mt. Pulaski was one of 15 communities across the country to receive a Local Food/Local Places grant through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which culminated in the opening of the Market on the Hill cooperative grocery store there in June 2020. In March of that year, the city’s Economic Development and Planning Board hired two local farmers to explore the feasibility of a “food hub” that helps local farms gain access to new markets and resources.
“One of our goals is to develop a regionalized local food system that provides farm-fresh food to consumers in Central Illinois,” says Tom Martin, co-op board president and a lifelong Mt. Pulaski resident, farmer, and community organizer. “Our community has remained vigilant in working to make this goal a reality, and we realized early in the process that if we were to succeed, we needed to take this project beyond Mt. Pulaski. Now, through collaboration with producers, consumers, and community leaders from the entire region, we have developed a concept and business plan we believe has a great chance at success.”
“It is a daily challenge to get our crops sold and distributed in a timely fashion,” says Ted Maddox, of Maddox Sweet Corn Farm, in Warrensburg. “The proposed FarmFED Co-op would help distribute our crops to outlets that we cannot get to, and has plans for processing products in ways that most producers don’t have the means to do. This project will not only bring support to area farmers, but will do a service to our community by bringing our fresh produce from farm to table.”
“Processing, cold storage and marketing are
three of the largest barriers preventing the scale-up of local food in Central
Illinois,” says Kaitie Adams, of Savanna Institute
and Red Crib Acres, in Urbana. “With over 90
percent of what we eat coming from out of state, innovative, community-based
solutions are essential for Illinois farmers to grow more food for Illinois
families. I am beyond thrilled with plans for the FarmFED Co-op. As a grower
and small business owner, this facility would give me the confidence to scale
products for larger markets and create new ones.”
For more information, email [email protected] or visit Facebook.com/farmfedcoop. The launch of FarmFED Co-op was first
reported by Bob Benenson in the Local Food Forum newsletter; visit LocalFoodForum.substack.com.