Smile Politely

A decade of local food

There are those in our community who will always lament what Champaign-Urbana does not have in the way of terrain and culture. But in the last nine years it has become increasingly difficult for these individuals to complain about a lack of local food and local cuisine.

Those who complain that we do not have the Bay area’s Cow Girl and Strauss Family creameries need only look to Prairie Fruits and the new Kilgus Dairy near Fairbury. The next time you are at a party and hear the fooderati whining about an alleged lack of good local cheese, feel free to tell them that Cow Girl carries cheeses from Prairie Fruits at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, no less.

And, where ten years ago, there was only one community supported agriculture project, today there are three. In that time, Prairieland Community Supported Agriculture not only grew to provide food to 150 households, it also helped usher in the next generation of farmers at Moore Family Farm.

Today, if you don’t feel like cooking local food, you can sign up to receive pre-cooked local meals from the Food Nanny. Having a party? Bob Rowe at Classic Events Catering can set you up with local food, as well.

The Market at the Square in Urbana, long considered one of the best in the state, continues to grow, along with the winter market inside Lincoln Square Village. And, there now is talk of a market beyond December, as well. The Urbana markets were joined by the return of the downtown Champaign Farmers Market this year, as well as the ongoing and less formal market in the parking lot at Country Fair.

Local meat was once a “who you know” affair requiring the purchase of a half or whole animal and a chest freezer. Now, anyone can purchase local meat and poultry through the farmers market and venues like Common Ground Food Coop and World Market, which even carries local halal products.

Similarly, there are three area farms licensed to sell eggs to local stores and restaurants. And while Champaign residents are still held hostage by ridiculous 1997 rulings, many residents of Urbana take advantage of laws allowing them to raise their own eggs.

Tomahnous Farm of Mahomet grows and mills local wheat. Local honey also is in good supply, as is sorghum molasses. And though it is harder to come by, we have some nationally famous maple syrup from Spence Farm.

The number of restaurants featuring local food has taken a beating, as has the entire restaurant industry in recent years. However, it is not unusual to find ingredients sourced from Blue Moon Farm, First Fruits, and Moore Family Farm at places like Great Impasta, bacaro, Timpone’s, and the deli of Common Ground Food Coop, among others.

Common Ground has become the destination for local groceries thanks to its move to Lincoln Square Village in 2008. But it is heartening to see stores like Strawberry Fields, Jerry’s IGA at Roundbarn, and County Market on Duncan stocking some local products, as well. This is because any time a store opts to carry local items instead of those from major distributors like SuperValu and United Natural Foods International, it risks losing discounts on the rest of the goods it stocks.

Could there be more local food? Certainly. But, every year it gets easier for C-U residents to eat at least some local food every day.

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