Driving Sustainable Food Economies in Southern Illinois 

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Food Works, a local non-profit, is dedicated to creating farming networks across Southern Illinois to foster sustainable communities across 23 different counties.

The organization employs a localized approach in efforts to achieve this goal through various community outreach programs between farmers, patrons and volunteers. 

In addition to the 23 Illinois counties, Food Works sponsors programs in Indiana, Arkansas, Kentucky and Missouri.

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Food Works is hoping to further its outreach by sponsoring various events including the Carbondale Winter Farmers Market, The Farming Alliance and Farm Beginnings, which are all managed under the organization. 

The Carbondale Winter Farmers Market takes place from Dec. 4, 2021 through March 26th, 2022 at 1237 E. Main Street inside of the University Mall. 

SNAP recipients who shop at the market are eligible for the LINK Match program. 

Patrons can use their LINK cards in exchange for wooden tokens at the information table right outside the door. 

These tokens can be used to match an additional $1 for every $1 spent using SNAP benefits, up to $25.

Paulson explained “if a snap customer spent $10 of their snap at the market we would give them $10 of coupons for freshly produced vegetables so essentially they’re doubling their food dollars at the farmers market”

The additional fruit and vegetables distributed with coupons not only help patrons gain more access to fresh food but also assists farmers in selling out their products.

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Building sustainable food systems requires more than just participation from market goers and farmers. 

“We use and rely on volunteers to make a lot of the programs work, so anything from helping us put up flyers, to helping us reach places where SNAP recipients could see our programs help,” Paulson said.

Due to the help of volunteers, Food Works is able to offer more than just goods at the market. 

There are also opportunities for patrons to explore aspects of proper nutrition and food security at this event. 

“They might find that they can learn a lot about local food and maybe get a little… a bit of food along the way just by visiting the farmers market” Paulson said.

Kim Reese is a Food Works Volunteer and SIUC student who plans to help patrons learn more about food this upcoming season. 

Reese plans on holding  cooking demonstrations, health and nutrition talks, as well as activities aimed at children. 

Her talks plan to cover a variety of topics including information on diseases, exercise as well as demonstrations on how to prepare fresh produce from the market that week. 

With the threat of Covid, Food Works has also worked to make the event safer for patrons. 

Over the past season, they have created an online ordering system allowing patrons to limit contact. 

In addition to this, the Food Works organization also sponsors The Farming Alliance program. 

This alliance consists of networking opportunities, events, and even possible job opportunities. 

One special event under this alliance is the Field Days event where hosts lead participants on short tours of local farms where one can learn more about the production chain. 

“If an agriculture student is interested in… learning more about sustainable agriculture… truly going to a field day is a really great way to do that because you know you’re out on the farm you’re talking with the farmer or potentially another expert in that subject area you’re talking with other farmers “Paulson continued

These events are meant to foster a community-based approach to small-scale food production and inspire collaboration according to the Food Works website. 

“Going to a field day is a really Great way to… build community and… your knowledge around sustainable agriculture um it’s a very different side then paradigm than conventional Chemical agriculture and so you kind of have to wrap your mind around a whole different way of thinking about the systems the agriculture system that are at play” Paulson said. 

Food Works also sponsors Farm Beginnings which is a series of events aimed at new or novice farmers. 

Margie Sawicki is a Food Works volunteer who has been running the Farm Beginnings program since 2017.

This event is a year long endeavor starting in October aimed at providing new farmers with the tools and recourse they need in order to succeed. 

“We think about…how they they needed to line with what their goal is for the land and what do you want to grow or produce whether it’s animals or or plants but also to make sure that and a lot of them[New farmers] also want to build the land make it healthy land” Sawicki stated. 

Farm Beginnings also has “farmers who come in or zoom in so that they can do about a half hour or so a presentation about how they got started with farming, what were their challenges, what were the successes and then what are their words of advice for new farmers” said Sawicki. 

Executive Director Paulson stressed the importance of this event for new farmers. “Because farming it’s a very challenging industry and it’s really important to build long-term support networks to help you out with it and so that’s a big part of it” she said.

Anyone interested in working with the Food Works organization is encouraged to visit www.fwsoil.org as well as join the newsletter to stay up to date on all future Food Works endeavors.

People are also encouraged to reach out to the organization directly at info.fwsoil.org and include a brief introduction as well as their interests with Food Works. Staff reporter Camela Moore can be reached at [email protected]

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