Thursday, May 13, 2010

Providing locally grown produce to Southern Illinois University

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Students at Southern Illinois University (SIU) are eating ultra-fresh produce due to a relationship between SIU housing and two local farms, which are the destination of the next sustainable agriculture tour sponsored by University of Illinois Extension.

The tour will take place on Friday, June 18, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., beginning at Mulberry Hill Farm in Carbondale. Later, the tour will caravan to Farmer Brown's Production Company in Pomona.

Tom Grant has owned Mulberry Hill Farm since 2000 when he began converting the conventional corn and soybean farm to organic produce production. "I wanted to make soil amendments without erosion, so I experimented with terracing garden beds and using grass clippings as green manure," Grant said. "Early on, I also decided to try to improve the soil as much as possible, figuring that healthier soil would result in healthier plants. I cook down the compost, incorporating wood chips and even oyster shells for a slow-release calcium to the soil." Mulberry Hill recently became a vendor for Southern Illinois University Housing. "There's a good group of chefs there who are interested in promoting locally grown, fresh foods," Grant said.

"We talk on a fairly regular basis. Communication is important. One day they ordered 200 pounds of spinach. We started picking it in the morning and had it on their delivery dock by 4 in the afternoon, and a good portion of it was served that night for dinner. That's fresh."

Grant also ships produce to Irv and Shelley's Fresh Picks in Niles. "We have it up on their dock the day after it's picked, so their customers have it less than 48 hours from picking and it hasn't traveled across the country."

Jerry Bradley, communications director and co-founder of Food Works, will provide information about his organization's work in helping to develop local, sustainable food systems in southern Illinois.

"I've been working along with Dayna Conner for two years with small-scale to mid-size fruit and vegetable growers in the region, farmers' market managers, and community stakeholders," Bradley said. "We are planning on starting a comprehensive, year-long new and beginning farmer-training program for growers in the region. It is modeled on the very successful Central Illinois Farm Beginnings program. We hope to give growers the business and marketing skills necessary to become successful growers over the long term. Part of the course also includes hands-on field days and one-on-one mentorships with established growers in southern Illinois."

Mid-morning, the tour will travel to Farmer Brown's Production Company in Pomona. Owner Josh Brown will describe the process and strategy behind becoming USDA Certified Organic, discuss the best practices and maximum yields using raised beds,share some of his marketing strategies and an overview of his crop plan.

Farmer Brown's Production Company also supplies fresh produce to Southern Illinois University housing. "Chef Bill Connors from SIU contacted our local co-op about the potential for some of their small-scale farmers providing food for the students," said Brown.

"We do some volume as far as small farmers go, so we were a likely candidate to getting that relationship under way. Things worked out well last year, and we have started selling to them again this year."

Brown said his farm specializes in leafy greens, lettuce, kale, and spinach, culinary garlic, peppers, squash, tomatoes, and herbs. "We have a strong emphasis on soil building through cover crops, crop rotations, and nutrient management," he said.

For more information, visit

Bill Connors, chef at Southern Illinois University Housing residence hall dining facilities will prepare the tour lunch made from locally grown produce as well as pasture-fed and finished beef raised by Joshua Buchheit at Lick Creek Beef. Buchheit will speak briefly during the lunch about how he raises, grazes and processes his cattle. And Chef Connors will talk about how he has made serving local food to his students a top priority.

The schedule for the remaining 2010 sustainable agriculture tours is as follows:

July 27, Illinois Berries

J & J Berry Farm

Jersey County

August 13, Romance Tour — Flowers and Wine

Bright Flower Nursery and Famous Fossil Vineyard & Winery

Jo Daviess County and Stephenson County

September 15, Agritourism — Farm Fresh Fun

Country Corner

Henry County

A fee of $20 per person will be charged for each tour, which includes lunch. Two adults pay $30 when registered together, and children under the age of 10 attend free.

Registration at least one week in advance is required.

Visit to register and for more details about each of the tours, including a map and agenda. To register by phone, contact Donna Cray at 217-241-4644. For more information, contact Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant (217-968-5512;

University of Illinois Extension is a statewide educational network that links the resources and research of the University of Illinois to the people of Illinois. The programs and workshops, which take place throughout the state, address issues involving youth, families, community development, agriculture, and natural resources. If reasonable accommodations are needed in order to participate in any of the programs, call 217-241-4644.

The tours are sponsored by the University of Illinois Extension, the NCR-SARE Professional Development Program, the Agriculture Tourism Partners of Illinois (ATPI), the Agroecology/Sustainable Agriculture Program at the University of Illinois, Mulberry Hill Farm, Farmer Brown's Production Company, and Food Works.

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