- Associated Press - Saturday, August 15, 2015

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) - A state nonprofit is hoping to create a better working relationship between local farmers and restaurant owners.

The Local Flavors farm-to-table events started in June giving central Illinois restaurants a chance to use local ingredients in their food. Customers eating lunch or dinner at these diners will have a chance to taste the difference

The Illinois Stewardship Alliance, a nonprofit advocate for the use of local farmers’ goods in restaurants, has lined up nine of the city’s eateries to join the effort. The alliance also hosts Local Flavors in Champaign-Urbana, Bloomington-Normal and Springfield to get more consumers to buy Illinois small farmers’ crops.

Molly Gleason, outreach coordinator for the alliance, said the event provides Peoria restaurants with exposure while raising awareness about shopping locally.

“It’s nice to have that meal and know that it’s coming straight from a local farmer so that you know it’s fresh, it came from a good source where they took care of the land and took care of their animals,” Gleason said.

The restaurants only have to use local goods for the days they are featured in the event but Gleason hopes more chefs will use the produce after the event is over. While buying local can be more expensive than buying from chain stores, she said there are ways to make buying local cheaper. The Stewardship Alliance hosted a mixer where farmers and chefs met to decide how to make their relationships more cost effective.

Dustin Allen, owner and chef at Edge, said the food at his restaurant is made with ingredients from regional farms. Edge will be featured in Local Flavors on Sept. 3.

“Up front (buying locally) cost more but as a chef and understanding how to be resourceful with the product, it ends up costing less, if you understand how to utilize every bit of the product,” Allen said. He used the example of juicing carrots and using the excess rinds to make carrot powder.

Allen said sustainability while keeping money in the local economy are goals of his business. Many of the 50-plus local farms he buys from specialize in one crop or animal and don’t use genetically modified organisms

He said any chef, whether at home or at a restaurant, using local ingredients notices a difference in quality and freshness.

“We have the ability to buy from all over the world,” Allen said. “We really focus on high quality but the way we look at it, the best produce we can get is in our own backyard.”

Allen said the “backyard” approach is better for the environment. By reducing reliance on cross-country semi-trailers hauling frozen produce, the carbon footprint from his stove to the customer’s table is reduced.

Allen also relishes the ability to tell visitors where exactly their food was grown.

By the end of Local Flavors, Allen and Gleason both want more restaurants to use the local approach.

“Illinois has some of the greatest farmland in the world but we import nearly all of our food,” Gleason said. “We should be sourcing it right here from local farmers.”

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Source: (Peoria) Journal-Star, http://bit.ly/1fpOhX7

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Information from: Journal Star, http://pjstar.com

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