CHICAGO — Illinois is an agricultural powerhouse, ranking second in the country in corn and soybean production, but it’s the state’s asparagus, pumpkins and other specialty crops that are the focal point of a promotion led by Chicago’s CBS television affiliate.
The “Illinois … Where Fresh Is” multi-media campaign, now in its second year, was among 13 state initiatives approved for fiscal 2012 funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.
“Where Fresh Is” was awarded $100,000, the second-most among the 13 programs.
A total of $648,291 will be split among the 13 projects with an intent to “expand the availability of fresh, locally grown produce and strengthen the state’s specialty crop industry,” Illinois Agriculture Department director Tom Jennings said in an October statement.
“Illinois’ fertile soil and favorable climate are good for growing a wide variety of crops,” Jennings said. “The purpose of these grants is to encourage additional local food production by creating markets for fresh fruits and vegetables. This, in turn, will help ensure a viable industry for our specialty growers.”
WBBM-TV, the local CBS affiliate, was pleased with the results of the first year of the “Where Fresh Is” campaign, which included a partnership with Jewel-Osco, the largest Chicago-area supermarket chain, and television and website advertising launched in conjunction with the opening of farmers markets over the spring, according to a spokeswoman.
“We’re trying to encourage people to support specialty crops in Illinois,” said Sharon Buchanan, account representative with WBBM’s Community Partnership Division.
Part of the message, she said, was to suggest consumers spend at least $5 of each grocery bill on Illinois crops. “If you’re going to buy (sweet) corn, you might as well buy Illinois corn.”
Other Illinois-based programs that received funding include the Apples Ag Mag publication, which is led by the state’s farm bureau office and is aimed at introducing more students to locally grown food and farmers that produce it.
Programs designed to encourage the use of specialty crops among food stamp clients, improve food safety and document the nutritional value of local produce also were funded.
Illinois is the largest U.S. pumpkin grower and ranks among the top 10 states in production of other specialty crops, including asparagus, cauliflower, green peas and lima beans, according to the state’s agriculture department.
More than 117,000 acres of Illinois farmland are devoted to specialty crops, which produce an annual revenue of nearly $137 million.