Local Food
1:57 pm
Sat December 1, 2012

New Initiative Plans To Seed Next Generation Ill. Fruit and Veggie Farmers

Credit Krossbow / Flickr

The average age of farmers in Illinois is getting older and a new program spearheaded by University of Illinois Extension aims to reverse that trend.  

The three year training program for new farmers started this morning and will focus specifically on small fruit and vegetable operations, which are generally cheaper to get off the ground as compared to commodities like corn or soybeans.

University of Illinois Crop Sciences Professor, Rick Weinzierl, says each new farmer adds another small business to the state’s economy. 

“In three years and three locations and the Hispanic worker program, as well, we’ll see over 300 people, if 200 of those successfully establish any kind of business that’s a definite contribution to local economies,” Weinzierl says.  

Part of the training program will be conducted in partnership with the Illinois Migrant Council and focus on providing opportunities for Hispanic farmers and seasonal workers.

“For a lot of years we’ve sort of said we ought to try and do something to work with that audience,” Weinzierl says.  “Suddenly a program comes along that says we’ll help provide you with some of the funding to do that.”  

Weinzierl says the program will seek to capitalize on the increasingly marketable push toward locally grown food. The training will include practical lessons on sustainable farming practices as well as cover topics including acquiring land, business planning, legal, insurance, and labor issues.

The training dovetails with legislative initiatives in Illinois that will require public institutions to buy a certain amount of their food from local sources

The training program is funded by grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Follow Tim Lloyd on Twitter: @TimSLloyd