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Farmers markets get a boost       Send a link to a friend

Federal funds to assist with specialty market advertising and promotion

[October 13, 2007]  SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich announced a new grant program Sept. 21 to promote Illinois farmers markets and increase demand for fresh, Illinois-grown produce.

The Illinois Farmers Market Advertising Grant Program will provide farmers markets up to $7,500 to help with advertising and promotional expenses during the 2008 season. The funds were awarded to the Illinois Department of Agriculture through the federal specialty crop program and will be distributed as part of Opportunity Returns, the governor's proactive, comprehensive economic development strategy designed to spur more economic growth and create jobs across Illinois. More than $175,000 in total is available.

"Farmers markets are good for local economies, good for consumers and, ultimately, good for our entire state," Blagojevich said. "Communities that sponsor farmers markets benefit from increased tourism, and consumers benefit from wholesome, locally grown food. These grants will help support and expand the state's agricultural economy."

Through Opportunity Returns, the Illinois Department of Agriculture has invested nearly $400,000 the past three years to expand the state's specialty crop industry. In addition to promotional materials and advertising, specialty crop grant funds have been used to develop an "Illinois, Where Fresh Is" marketing campaign that brands Illinois food products and encourages consumers to buy local and buy fresh. Illinois farmers and specialty crop companies are eligible to use the "Illinois, Where Fresh Is" logo to help consumers quickly and easily identify their specialty crops at farmers markets and grocery stores.

"Illinois' fertile soil and favorable climate are good for growing a wide variety of crops," Agriculture Director Chuck Hartke said. "While most people know Illinois ranks second in the production of corn and soybeans, many don't realize Illinois is the nation's largest producer of pumpkins and ranks among the top 10 states in the production of such specialty crops as asparagus, cauliflower, fresh-cut herbs, peas, lima beans and mustard greens. These grants will help expand markets for this produce and increase the competitiveness of our specialty crop industry."

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More than 220 farmers markets currently operate throughout the state, up from 97 in 1999. According to a 2003 Illinois Specialty Crop Survey, more than 117,000 acres of farmland is devoted to growing specialty crops, producing nearly $137 million in sales for Illinois farmers.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture will accept applications for the funds through Nov. 7. Application forms can be obtained at or by calling Kim Janssen at 217-785-5848. Grants will be awarded by Feb. 1, 2008.

Blagojevich's Opportunity Returns regional economic development strategy is the most aggressive, comprehensive approach to creating jobs in Illinois' history. Since a one-size-fits-all approach to economic development just doesn't work, the governor has divided the state into 10 regions, each with a regional team that is empowered and expected to rapidly respond to opportunities and challenges. Opportunity Returns is about tangible, specific actions to make each region more accessible, more marketable, more entrepreneurial and more attractive to businesses. It is about upgrading the skills of the local work force, increasing the access to capital, opening new markets, improving infrastructure, and creating and retaining jobs. Opportunity Returns is about successfully partnering with companies and communities, both large and small, to help all of Illinois reach its economic potential.

[Text from file received from the Illinois Office of Communication and Information]

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