Progress: Land, Growers, and Buyers…With a Shift to Sustainability Added In!

Although the up-to-date content of this blog leaves much to be desired, this does not mean that I have allowed the movement to stagnate, folks. In the past few days alone, a vertical, hydroponic, organic, heirloom, Pick-Your-Own strawberry production near Champaign, IL has been planned for next season’s growth. I’ll leave the surprise hanging concerning just what these heirloom strawberries consist of…but it will be a pleasant surprise! This operation is not for personal profit, in and of itself, yet it is not without a more localized gain. The owner-to-be of this mini-business plan is a lifelong friend from High School. In addition, he and his family own a large amount of farmland in Clark County–which they wish to begin converting to food production. It is a win-win situation, and if the end result of my efforts are as I hope, it will be a boon to the Rantoul, IL Food Hub Collaboration, as well. (Disclaimer/Apology:  I do not know if this is the correct name for the collaboration–I’m out of date in this regard)

Other large, noteworthy progressions are that of Janice and Ray Crane, Owners of Crane’s Chicken Ranch in Martinsville, IL. They have been raising chickens with antibiotic-free, non-GMO feed…and truly free-range in their style…for some time now. This year, demand greatly exceeded supply, and they are increasing their flocks. My father wishes to convert his small free-range flock to antibiotic-free, non-GMO, as well–and put his acreage to use by increasing his flock drastically. I have high hopes that Crane’s Chicken Ranch, my father, and (through the Virtual Hub) Terre Foods Cooperative can be connected in a manner that is beneficial to all involved. Supply, demand, and means all exist…it’s now a vast game of “Connect The Dots.” Given the recent occurrences within the Federal and State Governments, one could add “…in time” to that statement. In the long run, the capacity locally could overwhelm Terre Foods…but it’s a profitable, local start in this arena.

It should also be noted that my father, a disabled Vietnam-era Veteran, is almost convinced to apply for a FSA Microloan (although he really does not want to borrow from any government agency–and I do not know if the Microloan is/will be funded definitively) in order to build a greenhouse or greenhouses for Farm-to-School/School Garden use. The idea is, theoretically, that the local FFA, 4-H, and/or school Ag Programs can grow organic, hydroponic leafy greens for school use, and harvest the excess for him to have bagged and sell for his personal livelihood. His property is only about three miles from the High School in Marshall, IL, and even closer to the University of Illinois Extension. None of the above have been contacted yet…the landowner is the first to be convinced. What he (my father) lacks is money, and with a failing government he is facing a dwindling disability check. Ever since he invested his life-savings in land, he has been stripped from nearly every program that would have been accessible to him had he squandered his money on a gambling venture, etc. Some necessities and/or mistakes in legislation have terrible consequences on those that should be cared for the most…. Away from politics…not my passion….

So, where does this leave Illiana Ag Alliance, and the Brian Burson family, standing today? Well, the newest Microloan Fact Sheet includes a new clause (or one I missed last season). “…satisfactory history of repayment of debt.” Ouch. One year ago, that was not a problem for me. I had one minor bad debt, and that was an error on behalf of another. However, I did not find land or apply for the Microloan until the funding was exhausted. I self-funded, blundered, and sacrificed as an insane man would. I shot out preliminary business plans to complete strangers, quite short of what would have been considered professional and complete. I no longer show what I consider a “satisfactory history” recently. Many of those close to me thought I was insane…until the First of October and our government began teetering precariously.

When SNAP was inaccessible in early October, during the lack of a governing body, the local atmosphere took a 180-degree turn. Even my wife (my harshest opponent during the sacrifice of my family’s fortune for that of our neighbors’) agreed that I had been completely right. “It all comes down to food.”

Well, I have found the perfect, quaint little farmhouse and land to lease, opening up the Microloan…under the terms of last season. I have established connections with enough individuals that a large-scale, regional yet localized, Virtual Hub can be created. I have located the individuals within a proven company that can create this. I have thousands of bookmarks and tens of thousands of emails that can tie this together before the start of next season…if I can make the time to do all of it. None of the above were done without assistance, and all of the possibilities cannot be created without the same.  For the longest time, it has seemed like a proverbial “Catch 22,” yet maybe not. One of my bookmarks–and a chapter in one of my College textbooks–is devoted to 501(c)3 Non-Profits. I had dismissed the idea twice in the past year, yet a conversation with a highly-respected woman from Chicago has ideas rattling around in my skull again.

I will post more as this idea develops (or dies), but the preliminary idea is to form a Non-Profit for the Virtual Hub while maintaining a personal farm of my own. I want to farm, yet a Food Hub must be in place to fulfill my duty. As opposed to trying to do this all myself, I think that a member of Terre Foods (I have a founding member in mind…but I will not deign to make it my decision), a local sustainable farmer that possesses common and uncommonly good sense, a designee from Rantoul’s collaboration, a financier, and myself could serve on a Board of Directors??? Once again, not a single entity beyond myself has been approached with this idea. Much research and contact remains, yet I cannot find the flaw in the theory as of yet. I even have a handful of financiers that may just like the idea enough to run with it, once the information is disseminated clearly.

Why post the idea, if it has not been discussed? Well, my son is due to be born in two months and I need a local source of reliable revenue–therefore I perform labor for pay. I also am a full-time student. Until/unless the Virtual Hub and/or a personal farm becomes an income source, or something else comes through that opens my availability to use my brain while pursuing my passion–I’m doing what a father must.

Until next time! Pass this on, share it…whatever one does with WordPress!!!

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Food Hubs – essential infrastructure for a Fair Food System

Across the world, yet the principle remains the same. Food Hubs are a viable, necessary evolution in local food systems.

Food sovereignty reflections

Food Hubs

A version of this article appeared in the Coffs Coast Advocate on Saturday 21.4.12.

Last time I wrote about the efforts underway in Girgarre to turn a new page in the history of the Australian co-operative movement, by launching a ‘Food Hub’ manufacturing centre that is co-operatively owned and run by workers, growers and the broader community.

I’m happy to report that while Heinz has now sold its Girgarre site to another buyer, the Goulburn Valley Food Action Committee has found an alternative greenfield site in Kyabram, and are planning to launch the first of their new products, designed by Peter Russell-Clark, by the middle of May. The results of their feasibility study have now come in, and they show, according to Chairperson Les Cameron, that ‘demand for Australian product is greater than ever before…the Heinz approach of creating a product, marketing it and then trying to sell…

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