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Local News

Are local food farmers ready for the next big customer?

In Illinois, the demand for local food continues to grow, and people want to see more local products in more places, not just limited to farm stands or farmers markets.

So, as local food farmers build their businesses, they might need to think about some new kinds of customers.

“Lots of local food farmers start out selling at the farmers market, and that can be a good way to build an end-consumer following,” says Andy Larson, local food systems and small farms educator for University of Illinois Extension, “but as they expand, these farmers might need customers who can buy larger quantities with less time spent at the market.” 

Area restaurants and retail stores are often the next logical step.

“Of course, new kinds of customers bring new relationships and new expectations,” adds Grant McCarty, also a local food systems and small farms Extension educator. “When selling to a chef or a grocer, a farmer may have to think about things that weren’t part of their marketing process before, like industry-standard grading or packaging, or even just letting customers know what’s available this week.”

MarketReady is an Extension short course designed to help local food farmers prepare to scale up and professionalize their marketing so they can become consistent, high-quality providers to local restaurants, retail stores, and institutional food service.

The research-based training is built on best practices identified by food buyers who use local farm suppliers, and will cover everything from relationship-building to risk management to legal labels.

The MarketReady class will meet Thursday evenings from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 6, 13, 20 and 27 in the Rotary Room at the Belvidere Family YMCA, located at 220 W. Locust St. in Belvidere.

There will be additional online content for viewing between classes.

Registration is $50 (or $30 for a second registrant from the same farm) and can be completed online at web.extension.illinois.edu/bdo

For more information, or if you need a reasonable accommodation to participate in this program, contact Judy Hodge at 815-544-3710 or hodg@illinois.edu.

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