Food for thought

Election issues and downtown kitchen dreams

The local food movement has its fair share of supporters in the capital city, but changing the current supply chain is no small task. The Illinois Stewardship Alliance is hosting a series of discussions about food, farms and the election. And in Springfield, the city is working with the help of the federal Environmental Protection Agency to envision a project that would mean more access to locally produced food.

Molly Gleason, with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, is helping plan and host the weekly "Eat Drink Vote" Facebook live series. It involves a rotating crew of Illinois farmers to talk about what matters to them most this election. Upcoming topics include water quality, urban agriculture and farming as a climate change solution. Previous conversations have included the desire to produce Illinois products for more Illinois consumers, something the pandemic is making a clear priority, said Gleason. "We have the richest farmland in the world," she said. And yet Illinois imports the vast majority of the food consumers in the state buy.

The Illinois Stewardship Alliance is also compiling a voter guide based on a food and farming questionnaire sent to federal candidates. Gleason said while the nonprofit doesn't endorse candidates, it works to engage residents in the electoral process. "Our ultimate goal is to help people understand what the issues are and to help them cast an informed vote on the issues on Nov. 3," she said.

Piero Taico of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance is helping produce the election series. "It feels like we're reaching this groundswell" behind shortening the supply chain and connecting local farmers with the public, he said.

Taico wears another hat as the member of a steering committee working on downtown developments related to local food. The committee met in late August for virtual planning sessions. "The workshop did everything to confirm my suspicions that there's a powerful network of folks out there wanting to connect and discuss more about the possibility of local foods as a resiliency plan for Springfield," said Taico. A baker and first-generation American, Taico had sold Peruvian food with his family from a farmers market in central Illinois. With a cottage food license, he could bake from home, but that didn't offer much room to scale up. He said he's excited about the potential of commercial kitchen and innovation space in the city that could help entrepreneurs refine and execute their ideas without having to purchase their own cost-prohibitive equipment.

The proposal is on the table as part of the Springfield project titled Local Foods, Local Places. The city is getting assistance from the EPA to plan. Abby Powell is helping coordinate as part of the city's economic development office. She said in addition to the potential downtown commercial kitchen space, other goals include "increasing the year-round access to local foods" – such as a year-round farmers market.

The idea of a shared commercial kitchen space has also been popular, she said. "We've had so much interest in the idea of a shared kitchen space that we know that demand is out there." Powell said her office receives inquiries about it at least once a week. She said more talks with the EPA are anticipated later in the year as far as how to proceed.

While plans are still in the oven, Taico said the hope is "to not only produce tasty, nutritious food, but also economically nutritious food for our area as well."

Contact Rachel Otwell at

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