Kane County is leading a charge to bring more locally grown food products to consumers through a variety of new and ongoing programs.
The state of Illinois has been losing out on consumer dollars spent on produce imported from other parts of the country. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) has noted in its GOTO 2040 plan that roughly $14 billion spent on produce leaves the state of Illinois each year. While there are challenges to increasing local produce volumes — such as the short growing season — an analysis conducted under the Growing for Kane report determined that there is significant unmet demand for locally grown produce.
Growing for Kane, the county’s policy guide for locally grown foods, aims to recapture a portion of that loss with a focus on building the capacity of our local producers. Furthermore, the Kane County Farm Bureau has recently launched Bounty of Kane, a directory of farmers selling fresh produce directly to consumers and local farmers markets.
According to the 2007 Agricultural Census, there were roughly 1,180 acres of farmland used for growing produce in Kane County. The analysis estimates that the demand for fruits and vegetables is sufficient to support production on up to 2,496 acres of land — which is more than double the current acreage.
Growing for Kane aims to strengthen existing agricultural programs, such as the county’s Farmland Protection Program. The program has proven effective in preserving larger farms in the western region of the county; roughly 5,000 acres have been protected to date.
Growing for Kane also recommends the exploration of a companion ordinance to better preserve and encourage small farms operating within the central and eastern regions of the county. By encouraging farms of all sizes, the county hopes to maximize the variety of food products grown while supporting new opportunities for local sources of fresh produce.
Another venture recommended in Growing for Kane is the creation of a regional food hub. Such an operation would better facilitate the acquisition, processing, and distribution of food products, assisting small growers who are typically burdened by these costs as independent operators. The county is pursuing funds through the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture Grant Program, which will be used to finance a feasibility study for piloting a regional food hub.
In partnership with the local farming community, the Kane County Farm Bureau manages a directory of local growers for consumers and local farmers markets. The Bounty of Kane directory includes a listing of 35 growers operating within the county, including a map of their locations. Many of these growers sell directly to consumers from farm stands on site; others sell only to farmers markets.
Kane County is committed to supporting local growers as well as stimulating the economic and community benefits, which result from a diverse and thriving food system. For more news on Growing for Kane and information on local food production, see the program’s dedicated blog.