Seed & Starts Campaign

Well, it’s about the time to plan for next season for some. Personally, I’ve not ended in planning. Illiana Ag Alliance is a constant evolve-and-adapt, dependent on Mother Nature, time resources, and reaching the correct people. Add in tying that together into a business plan and/or a plan of action…and it keeps evolving.

One step, the purpose of this particular blog, is to inform producers–gardeners and commercial small farms alike–that Illiana Ag Alliance will be selling seed and starts this upcoming (2014) growing season. First, however, we need to know what is desired. There are a growing number of local would-be producers that wish to generate income from early-season plant starts, yet they need to know what demand exists beyond their own friends and family.

Why buy from Illiana Ag Alliance and/or the growers of the starts?

  1. Price – To date, I have researched myriad commercial seed vendors, spending upward of two-hundred hours in the past year I would guess. As a result, I believe that I have narrowed down the best bulk prices vs. quality available for 103 of the most-desired/historically-grown food crops locally. Seed will be priced in retail/wholesale packaging, ranging from small packets to multiple pounds, at comparable prices than are available in mainstream, traditional markets.
  2. Quality –  Each and every potential seed supplier passes stringent quality tests set forth by the proper governing agencies. All seed is harvested from 2013 crops and passes or exceeds the germination minimums. The vast majority of the seed that will be sold are heirloom varieties well-noted for their vigor, high-quality and/or heavy yields, and natural disease resistance.
  3. Purpose – The profits from the sale of seed and seed-starting supplies will be used to raise capital for Illiana Ag Alliance, not as pocket cash for myself. I’ve considered (and tried for a short while) the crowd-funding option. In fact, crowd-funding is still available, yet I am loathe to use the funds until/unless it becomes necessary. I’ve researched many grant and loan opportunities–they are out there in abundance, yet what is “sustainable” about free money? Yes, it would enable a self-sustaining system, and I have flirted with (and not finished) applications. I have been offered all sorts of fund-raising campaigns, yet none of them meet the multi-faceted purpose of the Seed and Starts Campaign. This does not mean that any of the aforementioned venues are ruled out, only that I like this choice better.
  4. Utility – I have created a database to track suppliers by purchase–at least those local buyers who opt to become suppliers for Illiana Ag Alliance, Rantoul’s Food Hub, Wabash Valley Food Hub, or other local aggregators. There is even a section within the database to track growers that wish to donate their crop, or a portion of their crop, to local Food Banks. From these records, one can determine potential yields and match the crop suppliers with buyers, should purchasers wish to have this done. One could consider this to be a preliminary step to a Virtual Food Hub, as is desired.
  5. Support – Each purchaser will receive links to information that is zone-specific for their particular crops, including pest identification and management, University and supplier recommendations, and projected yields.  Prior to planting season, a category will be added to this blog that includes generic information for crops and links to more specific information–primarily sourced from local Universities.

I have not yet created a price list. This is one of the things that can be expected in the near future, yet I want to get the word out that this is a service/fundraiser that Illiana Ag Alliance will be offering for the upcoming season.

Requests and inquiries may be sent to illianaagalliance@gmail.com. Please include the word “Seed” in the Subject portion of all correspondence related to this post, as I have created multiple filters for incoming messages. I’d hate to miss your message of support for the “Seed and Start Campaign” hosted by Illiana Ag Alliance!

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!!!

Virtual Regional Hub Providing Local Supply and Markets For All?

Something that I’ve been working toward, somewhat behind the scenes as of late, is coming back around to the forefront. It’s hardly a novel idea, yet the innovation surely seemed novel in the early, less researched stages.
I do not take credit for the idea–by the time it passed between my ears it had already been implemented in many areas of the nation. However, this could be something novel and great for us, here and now.
The idea is a variation on my first business plan of the year. That plan was basically a Centralized Regional Food Hub with Satellite Local Food Hubs, coordinating to meet supply and demand needs while keeping foods as locally as possible. The evolution is in the idea of multiple Local Food Hubs, Farmers Markets, Farmers, Grocers, Restaurateurs, Schools, Institutions, Wholesale Buyers and Sellers, and more to be able to access the same online resource, yet specific for each user profile. The added benefits are too numerous to list as of now.
I have struggled with how to prevent harm to direct-to-consumer sales (through venues such as Farmers Markets, On-Farm Sales, etc). I have a pretty good idea regarding how to best accomplish this, and it is incorporated into the Virtual Hub. In addition, I’ve been striving to use the research that I have conducted, day-in and day-out, in a manner that increases profitability for farmers, keeps local foods as local as possible, reduce losses and field waste…and turn those combined works into lower-cost local foods for schools and other wholesale buyers. That, also, is incorporated into the idea.
I am in the early stages of working with a group that can put such a resource together. The group is experienced and recommended–in fact, I received the first recommendation about six months ago through a user of the service provider.
The online resource virtually automates the local levels’ time and labor resources without taking a bit of personal choice away. In addition, this resource can make the coordination of planning, planting, harvesting, marketing, ordering, logistics, sales, and accounting such a streamlined process that it will add true value to a multitude of regionally-located local food chains! (My “regional” is within most definitions of “local”).
Needless to say, I am extremely excited about the possibility of such a beneficial forward movement. Much conversation, both on the design side and with local producers, still remains to be addressed. There must be more time spent pursuing this opportunity for our area, yet all signs point toward boundless possibilities!!!