At the Greater Peoria EDC we are experimenting with new ways to play an active role in building a strong regional food economy. One way we can participate is by helping to reduce the barrier of entry for beginning farmers interested in building their skills and expanding their knowledge base in agriculture.
This past summer GPEDC board member Mark Spenny offered to sponsor a local farmer who was interested in attending the Down to Earth Systems Workshop at Spence Farm in Fairbury, IL.
Dwayne Harris—who runs the apprenticeship program and manages the Well Farm in Peoria’s Southside neighborhood—applied for and received the GPEDC scholarship to attend the workshop. We were excited about this trial run of a potential annual opportunity to support food-based entrepreneurs in our region.
Spence Farm is a leader in the growing network of small farmers throughout Central Illinois working together to create new and better market opportunities. Father-and-son duo Marty and Will Travis, owners and operators of Spence Farm, coordinate a farmer-to-farmer marketing service called Down at the Farms. With this service they aggregate products from over 50 farms and sell directly to restaurants, bakeries, and grocery stores in Chicago and Peoria.
The Down to Earth Systems Workshop highlighted the benefits of the diversified and regenerative farming practices at Spence Farm. Participants gained hands-on experience with soil and plant testing as well as foundational farm business planning and management instruction.
Because Dwayne operates an urban farm, this also created an opportunity for a rural-urban exchange of ideas and relationship building. This is a great example of the types of collaboration that are required to build a strong regional food economy and build stronger ties between our rural and urban communities!
We look forward to staying in touch with Dwayne and the Well Farm to see how things progress. If you are a beginning farmer or local food entrepreneur, stay tuned in 2020 for more opportunities like this.Special thanks to Mark Spenny for his contribution and to the Illinois Stewardship Alliance for their administrative assistance with the scholarship.