Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Resources for Illinois Food/Agriculture Businesses

You would think that a market manager would be off in some sunny area resting her weary bones from the summer’s hectic and fun schedule, but like our vendors, I am busy plotting, planning, learning and improving myself and the Downtown Elgin Harvest Market. As some of you know we already have an ongoing survey determining the best times and days for this year’s market. I have learned that cities and events are always changing and evolving to accommodate the needs of its residents, attendees, and existing and potential customers.

I recently took a trip to Springfield where I attended a pre-workshop that led up to the 2012 Illinois Specialty Crops, Agritourism and Organic conference called “Farmers Markets: Creating Resources and Partnerships for a Healthy Community”. I learned quite a bit in the areas of the LINK program (which we will be unveiling this year) as well as new state laws. I also saw some really informative presentations about a variety of topics some more broad and some more specific. I even shared and networked with other market managers from all over the stat,e including Lisa Bralts from the Urbana Market at the Square, Keith Johnson from the Woodstock Farmers Market, Roxanne Junge with the Glenview Market, Lindsey Engelsman from DeKalb’s Farmers Market and Dee Basile with the Aurora Farmers Markets which is celebrating their 100th year!

I particularly wanted to give a heads up on four possible resources for Illinois businesses, especially when it comes to agriculture and food.  Hopefully what I share will be helpful:

This program from the Illinois Department of Agriculture identifies Illinois products in various retail establishments – from major grocery stores to local community farmers markets.  Currently over 500 food and agribusinesses utilize this logo. The great thing is that any entity that produces, processes, packages or manufactures a food or agribusiness product in Illinois can be authorized to participate in the logo program – and it is FREE of CHARGE.

2)      Market Maker 
This is another great FREE marketing tool for anyone that does anything with food.  It is a web-based resource that connects farmers, fishermen, processors, distributors, food retailers, and consumers. The thing I really liked about it, aside from being another way for potential customers and vendors to find us, is that it contains demographics and business data for you to identify markets by those characteristics; enables you to find lists of potential marketing partners by location, and also notifies you when someone pops up in your area.

Though several of our vendors could be considered organic, most of them are too small to afford the certification costs. This wonderful program exists to alleviate that burden on small businesses who are producers and handlers.  If eligible this program will reimburse that business a portion of the costs of organic certification, up to 75% of the costs up to a maximum of $750.

4)       Local Producer Loans/Grants – THEY DO EXIST
·         Whole Foods Market Loan Program 
      Loans range from $1,000 to $100,000 and can be for things like purchasing more animals, investing in new equipment or converting to organic production. 
     Grants are available by region and state.  I was quite excited to read about all the monies they gave out, and the wide range of recipients such as: research and education, graduate student projects, professional development, to local farmers and ranchers, and youth/educators.  Definitely worth looking at. 
·         Though harder to get, it is worth mentioning that the Illinois Department of Agriculture usually lists federal grants as well on their webpage. 
·         Illinois Finance Authority 
      This group offers quite the list of lending tools to service farmers and agribusinesses with their pressing capital needs.  Since 2004, they have supported 561 businesses, approved $685 million dollars in financing, and have served over 80+ counties in Illinois.

1 comment:

Jacqueline said...

This is GREAT, Jennifer. As a small (micro) business, there is so much to keep up with. It is very helpful to know about the Illinois Logo and other sources of funding. Thanks so much for working on this angle. We appreciate all of the efforts to make the Elgin Market strong. Keep it up!