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CCFB News» January 2024

IFB launches Urban Growers Cohort

01/29/2024 @ 12:09 pm | By ERIN M. HENKEL FarmWeek

Illinois Farm Bureau is hoping to connect urban producers with the agricultural community across the state by creating an Urban Growers Cohort and investing $1.2 million in community gardens.

 

IFB will be entering into a three-year partnership with USDA and Natural Resources Conservation Service to build connections and prevent growers from being “siloed.”

 

“There’s programs everywhere, there’s nonprofits that are doing all sorts of things, but people didn’t feel like everyone knew how to connect, not just within Chicago but across the entire state,” said Raghela Scavuzzo, IFB associate director of food systems development.

 

Over the next three years, six community gardens will be identified throughout the state and those gardens will receive between $50,000 and $75,000 for infrastructure based on a needs assessment. The funding is not a grant and Scavuzzo said it is to create a long-term partnership meant to be a “true resource” for growers.

 

“At the end of the day this is going to be what you as growers need,” she said.

 

Ben Skipor, ag science teacher and student garden coordinator at Freeport High School, said he sees this partnership as a way to excite young people who have not been a part of agriculture.

 

“When I talk to my students about agriculture, a lot of them don’t see opportunities because they don’t come from a family that has a farm or they aren’t the traditional farmer, so I think opening up those opportunities to them is really important so they can see themselves in the industry,” Skipor said.

 

Scavuzzo said NRCS defines community gardens as anything that has either education to the community or food access components, which many urban farms provide. She also noted the definition of an urban community is broad and the goal of the program is to reach multiple geographically diverse communities.

 

Joseph Bridges, urban conservationist for USDA, said this program is important to make sure that urban and smaller scale size operations are “in touch” with available technical and financial assistance.

 

“Every particular area is unique to its own demographic, what kind of produce they have, what is going on at the sites,” Bridges told FarmWeek. “Bridging the gap and addressing things like the food deserts and addressing things like the general educational informational side of, how do we feed ourselves five to 10 years from now.”

 

Bridges said he believes everyone has a role in agriculture and that the Urban Growers Cohort will allow a systematic approach to “put all the pieces together” between traditional growers and specialty growers.

 

The program will do one site in the first year, two sites in the second year and three sites in the third, with additional funds, supplies and materials each year.

 

“This is going to be a true grassroots opportunity where we’re working with local government, local leadership, we aren’t coming in to control anything. We are here help others build those relationships in the community,” Scavuzzo said.

She said they also want to ensure grant programs and other funding is used to its full potential.

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