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State awards local food infrastructure grants as advocates seek program’s extension

State Sen. Dave Koehler speaks at a news conference, surrounded by other people
Alex Abbeduto
Capitol News Illinois
State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, speaks at a news conference in support of a bill to create a permanent local food infrastructure grant program that would receive $2 million annually.

Nineteen local farms will receive a combined $1.8 million in grants to fund infrastructure projects aimed at developing their ability to produce and distribute food around the state as part of the Local Food and Infrastructure Grant Program.

The grants come from the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s budget but were managed by the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, a local food and farm advocacy group. Grantees were recognized by a small group of bipartisan state legislators and the Alliance Wednesday morning at a Capitol news conference.

Grants were awarded to farms across Illinois, including several in the Chicagoland area. Five of the recipients will receive the maximum amount of funding which is $150,000.

One of the farms receiving the maximum grant amount is The Flock Farm in southern Illinois. Brent Glays, a marine veteran and the farm’s owner, said the hardest part of producing meat in that area is processing it. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture, the closest poultry processing plant is in central Illinois.

Glays said his farm will use the grant money to build a local U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved poultry processing center and educate other farmers on how to humanely raise animals and process meat. That includes creating workshops on food safety management and regulations.

“I’m not looking at this poultry plant as a processing facility per se, I’m viewing it as a classroom,” Glays said.

In Chicago, another $150,000 grant will be awarded to Eden Place Farms, an urban agricultural center. Founder Michael Howard said the grant money will allow them to build new kitchen, storage and processing infrastructure other urban farmers can use to distribute their products.

“This is the first tangible funding that has come out of Springfield to urban farms,” Howard said.

Gov. JB Pritzker did not propose ongoing funding for the budget year that begins July 1, but advocates – including the Illinois Stewardship Alliance – are pushing for legislation to make the program permanent. Senate Bill 3077 would officially establish an ongoing Local Food Infrastructure Grant program with at least $2 million in annual funding.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, said the program is “just the start of alleviating our food deserts and food insecurities.”

The bill recently passed unanimously through the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

Alex Abbeduto is a reporter at Capitol News Illinois.