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by Russ Parsons

Animal, Vegetable,
Miracle: A Year of
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by Barbara Kingsolver

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by Amy Trubek

Your Bounty


Start a New Holiday Tradition  . . .
Go Local

It’s a quiet, misty morning as we crunch our way down a gravel drive. You wouldn’t guess what was waiting for us on the other side of the small door we’re approaching. As we step inside we’re greeted by a murmur of conversation, reminding me of walking into a busy cafeteria on the first day of school.

At that thought, I laugh and the noise catches their attention. That’s when 4,000 turkeys turned, in unison, to check us out. My expression solicited a chuckle from my guide.

“Want to know what the number one question I get asked every year is?” Brent Yordy asks with a twinkle in his eye.

“What’s that?”

“Are turkeys really as dumb as they seem?” he answers with a chuckle.

“So are they?”

“Well, I tell my customers they are only as dumb as the guy who raised them,” he replies.

That’s anything but the case. Whether it’s raising turkeys, cattle or sheep, central Illinois farmers know more than a thing or two about why local food is so important and they’re just waiting for you to ask, and buy.

With the last farmers’ market tent packed away for the season, you might think your days of enjoying fresh local foods are done for another year. But they’re not. And if you’re looking to entertain family and friends this holiday season, it’s well worth the extra effort to feed them well with locally grown poultry and meat.

According to the 2007 Illinois Food and Farm Act, more than 90 percent of the food in our state is imported, traveling an average of 1,500 miles to reach our plates. Not only can we shorten that distance by taking a quick jaunt over the hills and through the woods, we can also learn more about our food than we ever knew before.

Just as we celebrate family traditions during the holidays, it’s these same traditions that have led many local farmers into the family business. Take for example, Brent Yordy, a third-generation turkey farmer in Morton.

“My grandfather always said a happy turkey tastes better, so my number one concern is keeping the turkeys happy. They’re not good to me, if I’m not good to them,” Brent Yordy of Yordy Turkey Farm, explains.

And being good to them involves a lot of work on his behalf. The 10,000 turkeys he raises for holiday sales are with him from their first days out of their shells - literally raising from them from the ground up by growing, grinding and mixing their own feed.

“There are two things that determine the quality of your meat, the age of the animal and what it is fed. If you buy a turkey from us, you’ll know where your turkey came from and there are no generic 800-numbers to call. If you have a question about our product, you call me,” Yordy said.

And, that assurance has led to increased sales the last three years. While most area farmers would agree that Peoria residents are a bit behind the trend in seeking out local foods, they’ll also agree that local demand is increasing.

Doug Sassman of the Heritage Farmers Market in Pekin can attest to this. He opened his outdoor farmers market three years ago and didn’t close even when the first snowflakes began to fall.

“People just kept coming. They didn’t care about the snow or the cold - even on the coldest day of the year,” Sassman said.

This winter should be easier for Sassman and the local farmers and producers he works with as the market has moved to an indoor location. The market features beef, pork and eggs raised by Sassman himself, plus poultry and produce from neighboring farms, along with a selection of local cheeses, wines, honey, jams, breads and more.

Sassman was raised to enjoy farm fresh beef, pork and eggs and offering this quality is at the core of his business as he strives to encourage relationships between producers and consumers.

“Local food is infinitely better. You’d never trust a stranger with your credit card, but you’ll trust them with your food. The farmers at our market offer an open invitation to visit their farms,” Sassman adds. “Our business is growing by word of mouth and all of it is supporting the local economy and going back to the farmers who work so hard.”

The old phrase, ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’ is a common theme when sourcing local foods. This is something Jim Hicks of the Blue Ridge Family Farm knows well. Located near Chillicothe, Hicks raises two small herds of sheep annually.

“I guess you could say we have a hobby herd. We receive several inquiries from people looking for lamb and once we get a customer, they spread the word to their friends,” Hicks said.

When his daughter was young, a friend gave her four sheep. That was more than 25 years ago and the family, who grows 200 acres of organic seed, corn, oats, rye, wheat and more, still has a small herd today.

“The lamb in the grocery store travels quite a distance and is often from an older animal. But our sheep are lovingly raised and pampered. That’s something you can tell when preparing our lamb at home. It’s sweet and tender,” Hicks adds.

Since his sheep are pasture raised, we take a walk through the dewy grass to see them up close. As we walk, we talk about how to reach customers. “Grain is easy, it can be sold all over the world. But everyone I know is trying to find a way to sell their locally raised produce, beef, chicken and eggs,” Hicks explains.

It takes extra effort to buy local foods. But, it’s well worth it. Along the way, you’ll meet people who have a passion for what they do, who take pride in the quality of what they offer, and in the end, a tradition you start for the holidays may become a new way to live year-round.

Article originally appeared in the Nov/Dec issue of Art & Society.

Heritage Farmers Market

20235 Illinois Rte. 9
Pekin, Illinois
Phone: (309) 620-0616

Open Saturday from 8:30 to 4 p.m., Monday- Friday, 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Doug Sassman and his team of farmers will have a variety of poultry and meats available for the holidays including steaks, roasts, heritage turkeys, chicken, rabbit and pheasants.  Turkeys are limited, so the market offers a sign-up sheet to customers can make a reservation by phone or a visit to the market.

Yordy Turkey Farm

2000 S. Main

Morton, Illinois

Phone: (309) 263-2891

Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Saturday during November and December.
Other times by appointment.

Brent Yordy recommends calling ahead to reserve your turkey for the holidays.  Availability includes resh, whole turkeys, bone-in and boneless breasts, drumsticks and thighs, wings, giblets and necks and hickory smoked turkeys. In addition, Yordy’s offers an all-natural turkey rub featuring their own blend of 10 herbs and spices.

Blue Ridge Family Farm

22501 Berchtold Rd.

Chillicothe, Illinois

Phone: (309) 274-2228

Open by appointment.

During the holidays, Jim Hicks has legs of lamb available, along with lamb chops, stew meat and ground lamb. Special requests for a rack of lamb or a crown roast can be accommodated with proper notice. Call ahead to arrange pick-up in Peoria or at the farm.

Additional Sources:
Local farmers use meat lockers
to process their animals. These
lockers are an excellent source
for local poultry and meats year-round.

Bittner’s Eureka Locker, Inc.
110 4H Park Rd.
Eureka, Illinois
Phone: (309) 467-2731

Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Scott Bittner has been in the business for 14 years. During the holidays, Bittner’s offers smoked turkeys, pre-cooked prime rib, smoked hams and gift boxes of steaks, cheeses and more. Quantity is limited, so call ahead.

Elmwood Locker Service
214 S. Magnolia
Elmwood, Illinois
Phone: (309) 742-8929

Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

John Powers is the second-generation proprietor of the Elmwood Locker. During the holidays, he offers smoked turkeys, smoked prime rib, smoked ham and a variety of fresh meats. If you’re planning an appetizer spread or creating a gift basket, make sure to try his handcrafted J&J Jerky Products featuring pork jerky made from pork loin and beef jerky made from brisket, along with a variety of perfectly seasoned beef sticks.

Copyright 2008.