SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Promoting local produce was the centerpiece of the Illinois Department of Agriculture tent at the state fair.
During the opening weekend of the fair, August 12-14, free samples of local foods were offered at a craft market.
Featured artisans with samples included: A Lil Sumpin’ Special Desserts, Fruit of the Spirit Jam, Glaciers End Shrubs, Golden Hour Bake House, Grand Oak Farm Breads, Hellowater, JR’s Seasoning, Peter’s Produce Snacks, Prevail Jerky, Rolling Dairy Lawns Farm, Ropp Jersey Cheese, Spiceocity Seasonings, Uncle Joe’s BBQ, Umland’s Crunchy Cheese, and Whisk Me Away Bakery.
Apple cider slushies, watermelon, soft serve ice cream, sweet corn, and peaches were available for sale at the Illinois Specialty Growers Farm stand in the IDOA tent throughout the fair.
“Over the past year and half of our locally grown produce has become more important than ever,” said IDOA Director Jerry Costello II.
“People want to know where their food comes from and giving them the chance to meet the farmers who grow it is even better. We had traditional to urban farmers, covering the full breadth of Illinois agriculture.
Illinois produce store
This was the second year for the Illinois produce store which opened in the IDOA tent on Monday, August 15 and remained open for the remainder of the fair.
The mini-grocery showcased the diversity of products made in the Prairie State. Prior to last year, a different business owner had a booth each fair day.
“He’s sponsored by Hy-Vee this year, and we’re really excited about the partnership. We came up with this idea because we love bringing sellers and business owners inside the tent to meet the public, provide samples and sell their products,” said Jackie Sambursky, Chief Marketing Officer, IDOA promotion and grants.
“However, it’s really difficult for business owners, especially mom and pop small business owners, to be able to be here for the whole fair. Sometimes fair weekdays can be a little slower, so sometimes it’s not worth it for a business owner to come here, especially small family and family businesses.
“So we thought why not sell it on behalf of the company with a popup consignment market for the rest of the fair.”
Sambursky said visitors are surprised at the diversity the state offers in local produce that goes far beyond corn, soybeans and livestock.
“We are the premier horseradish producer in southern Illinois. We are the premier pumpkin grower in Morton, Illinois. People don’t know it and are surprised by it, but Chicago is also the second largest food cluster in the country,” she said.
“Chicago is actually an agricultural powerhouse, and I think people are surprised to hear that as well. The river system that goes out of Chicago and into the rest of Illinois really powers a lot of traditional agriculture, but it also allowed a long history of processed foods.
“Illinois was #1 in processed food sales in 2021 with $178 billion in sales. These are both domestic and international sales. American products in general are sought after internationally. Here at the Illinois Department of Agriculture, we try to do things to get Illinois agricultural and processed food companies to people both nationally and internationally.
A wide variety of products were available at the store, ranging from popcorn to honey to cheese.
“We have Turasky’s meat right across from the fairgrounds. We have Rolling Lawns milk from Greenville, Illinois that was just bottled two days ago,” Sambursky said.
“People love our popcorn. Popcorn is the official state snack of Illinois. Creekstone Kettle Works popcorn in Raymond, Illinois is also the popcorn vendor in the grandstand, and it’s also a great way for IDOA to support local businesses.
“We have Donny B’s popcorn. They have a lot of different flavors and it’s fun to see people try them.
“We have a new product, Fooze Balls, from a company that started in New Zealand and moved its business to Chicago. It’s an all-vegan protein ball. They have peanut butter and jelly and lemon cheesecake and it’s very hard to decide which flavor is the best.
“We have local baked goods. We have Riley’s seasoning. Riley’s has a long partnership with IDOA and we are grateful to be able to continue this partnership through the Illinois Products Store. We have Ropp Jersey cheese curds.
“Everything is delicious and we are really grateful,” added Sambursky.