“We’re looking for everything that can be grown in Illinois,” chef Alisa DeMarco told farmers.
The meeting attracted a variety growers. Some were new to specialty crops and others had years of experience. Conventional and organic farms were represented, and the farm operations ranged from small to large.
The event was hosted by the county Farm Bureau and the University of Illinois Extension. Other collaborators were Illinois Farm Bureau, Central Illinois county Farm Bureaus, and the Illinois Specialty Growers Association.
Individual buyers presented general information to the farmer audience. After each presentation, farmers lined up to speak one-on-one with buyers.
Woodford County farmer Brian Springer of Metamora discusses his plans to plant an orchard with Sue Dawson, the food service director of Hendrick House, a privately owned residence hall on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus. (Photo by Kay Shipman)
“I’m here to learn more what buyers are looking for and to see how to meet them,” said Kankakee County farmer John Pilcher, who is starting his third year of growing aronia berries on his Momence farm.
Vermilion County farmers Frank and Janet Butler are considering expanding their vegetable crops operation. “We’re looking to see what’s available in our area,” Janet said. Frank added the couple is considering regional markets because Indianapolis is only 90 miles from their farm.
The buyer meeting was a new experience for second-year farmer Terry Nuetz Hayden of Monticello. She plans to add flowers to the mix of specialty crops on her Piatt County farm. However, she is still exploring marketing options: “Is this the right place for us?” she wondered.
Kankakee County farmer Duane Oosterhoff said details supplied by the buyers were informative, and he appreciated the opportunity to meet with them.
“My thanks to IFB, the Specialty Growers, and the U of I Extension for setting these (meetings) up,” Oosterhoff said. “A lot of good connections were made today.”