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Is Illinois a Food Desert?

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The Illinois Department of Agriculture will once again host the Illinois Products Expo. The 10th annual "Food and Cooking Extravaganza" will be held June 21-22, 2008 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

The Expo, which typically attracts more than 5,000 people, features free samples of food from Illinois producers and growers. Offerings range from meat products and candy to gourmet seasonings and sauces and homemade jams and jellies. Products from state wineries and agribusiness are also available.

To date, 35 food companies, two non-food companies and 13 Illinois wineries will be at the 2008 event with more expected. The hours for the Illinois Products Expo will be: Saturday, June 21, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, June 22, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $3. Youth 10 and younger will be admitted free of charge.

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Did you know . . .
  • Our food travels 1,500 miles on average to reach our plates.
  • More than 90 percent of the food in our state is imported.
  • Illinois ranks fifth among other states for the annual loss of farmland.
  • 95 percent of organic produce and foods sold in Illinois are grown and processed in other states; and Illinois residents purchase $500 billion of organic foods annually.
  • Farm produce, sold directly to consumers, accounts for less than 0.2 percent of Illinois agriculture sales.
  • Many small communities and neighborhoods throughout lack markets that offer fresh produce, and if they do the selection is limited.
  • Yet, when surveyed, 50 percent of Illinois residents said they’d prefer to purchase locally grown produce, but don’t know how or where to find it.

In 2007, the Illinois legislature passed the Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Act of 2007 with the goal that “Illinois should be the Midwest leader in local and organic food and fiber production.”

With the increased sales and demand for organic food, and locally grown foods, Illinois is looking for ways to tap into this expanding market while offering more consumer choices. In addition, it can make a positive impact on the environment by reducing the distance from grower/producer to our homes.

The act will also help encourage more in-state jobs and business opportunities while capturing more of the current food dollars being spent by consumers. This would also impact the areas of production, processing, storing and distribution.

As part of the act, a 32-member task force has been created to gather recommendations on production, infrastructure, public access, public education and economic benefits that can be derived from Illinois farmers directly serving local needs. The task force will address how to make it easier for consumers to buy, prepare and eat local food along with helping retailers procure more local products.

To get you started on your quest for Illinois foods, try these:

Copyright 2008.