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Sowing Seeds for the Future of Illinois Agriculture

March 20, 2008

Chicago, IL - It's "National Agriculture Day," and Christian County organic farmer Paul Gebhart says it's a good time for Illinois producers to look at ways to best meet consumers' wants and needs, particularly with the rise in demand for locally-grown, sustainable and organic foods. He adds that, with diesel prices hovering at $4 per gallon, "local" is better for everyone.

"With fuel prices so high, that's where you're going to have the advantage. You're not going to see produce being trucked 2,000 miles during a season when it can be grown locally. That's going to give us a good jump on the competition, right there."

Farmers in Illinois don't normally provide fresh vegetables and greens year-round, but Gebhart says there are simple and creative methods to virtually double the growing season, including the use of canopies and crop-timing. He says local farms that can label their products "sustainable" and "organic" fetch premium prices for them, as well as keeping more of the profit because they sell direct. Those advantages, he insists, also can help recruit the next generation of farmers.

"People want to eat healthier foods. We need to find these young farmers and get them started off growing it right, and selling it direct, and it's just a golden opportunity."

Illinois's agriculture sector contributes about $9 billion annually to the state's economy. More information is available online, at www.illinoisstewardshipalliance.org.

Deborah Smith/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - IL