In 2009, the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) formed a voluntary network of representatives from state government, universities, not-for-profit foundations, farmers, farmer associations, and organizations, farmers markets, and food policy councils working to provide professional development to farmers markets in Illinois. The IDOA supported the fledgling Illinois Farmers Market Networks’ activities through a $15,000 Specialty Crop Block Grant.

heirloom tomatoesPat Stieren, a former Administrator for the State WIC Program, acted as primary coordinator for educational activities, along with Delayne Reeves, Marketing Director for the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and Dr. Sylvia Smith, Ph.D., CHE, Assistant Professor and Coordinating Counselor, Animal Science, Food & Nutrition Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The entire Illinois Farmers Market Network consisted of approximately 35 market managers, a generous selection of government and university professionals, along with advocates from the food and nutrition community. It operated with countless in-kind volunteer services in addition to the grant funding.

Prior to the Illinois Farmers Market Network (IFMN), there was no major effort to provide education and training to farmer’s market management in Illinois. From 2009 to early 2012, the Illinois Farmers Market Network reached over 289 individuals and provided eleven regional workshops, two statewide conferences, and a variety of webinars to over 500 farmers and market managers across the state. Throughout this period farmers market managers continued to stress their support for a statewide farmer’s market association and a strong desire for coordinated communication and networking resources.

The Illinois Farmers Market Network partners who provided in-kind and volunteer work represent the following government and not-for-profit agencies and farmers based organizations: Illinois Departments of Aging, Agriculture, Human Services (SNAP, WIC and WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Programs) Public Health, The Land Connection, University of Illinois Extension, Angelic Organics Learning Center; Illinois Specialty Growers Association, Evanston Food Policy Council, American Corn Growers Association, Fresh Taste, Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Winter Markets, Bloomington-Normal market, Two Rivers RC&D, Southern Illinois University, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Prairie Rivers RC&D, Downtown Bloomington Farmers Market, Green City Market and City of Chicago City Markets, Urbana Market-on-the-Square, 61st Street Farmers Market (The Experimental Station), Carbondale Farmers Market, Geneva Farmers Market.

woman with I heart Farmers Market tattooWhile the network was highly successful in expanding training and resources for farmers markets, its members agreed that an official association was needed to make it sustainable. Just like many farmers markets without proper funding, the Illinois Farmers Market Network could not support itself entirely on volunteers and in-kind services, it needed additional financial assistance. Pat Stieren and Dr. Sylvia Smith submitted two grant proposals in 2009 and 2010, however, neither were accepted. In 2011 a third grant proposal was submitted and in November 2011, the Board of Trustees for Southern Illinois University received a U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmers Market Promotion Program Grant in the amount of $81, 058 for the purpose of forming the Illinois Farmers Market Association. This grant period ran from October 2011 through October 2013. The Primary Project Manager was Dr. Sylvia Smith and the Project Coordinator was Pat Stieren.

The Illinois Farmers Market Association (ILFMA) was founded on April 4, 2012. The primary goal of the grant project was the development and implementation of an association that would provide improved services, educational resources, and support to farmers, market managers, and local communities.

Pat Stieren was selected as its first Executive Director in 2012 and served until November of 2015. Our current Executive Director is Janie Maxwell who started in November of 2015.

The Illinois Farmers Market Association now provides year-round education, operational resources for farmers and markets, advocates to consumers and host communities on the importance of access to fresh, nutritious local foods, offers programs and services promoting markets economic, health, and nutritional benefits, along with providing regulation and policy input, and supporting farmers markets and agricultural businesses in a wide variety of initiatives.

Establishing an Illinois Farmers Market Association has brought greater awareness to local agriculture and improved access to fresh and local products, and specialty crops across the state.