Tuesday, September 10, 2013

JJC Farmers Market to Host Back to School Fair

Joliet Junior College Culinary Arts Professors demonstrate cooking with fresh ingredients at the JJC Farmers' Market
By Ann Baskerville
A $92,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture's Farmers' Market Promotion Program has allowed Joliet Junior College to create a weekly farmers' market on its campus.  According to the USDA website, the Farmer's Market Promotion Program:

"offers grants to help improve and expand domestic farmers’ markets, roadside stands, community-supported agriculture programs, agri-tourism activities, and other direct producer-to-consumer market opportunities. Agricultural cooperatives, producer networks, producer associations, local governments, nonprofit corporations, public benefit corporations, economic development corporations, regional farmers’ market authorities and Tribal governments are among those eligible to apply. The maximum amount awarded for any one proposal cannot exceed $100,000. Over $9 million in FMPP grants were awarded in fiscal year 2012."

JJC Agriculture Professor Donna Theimer and Grant Writer Kelly Larson made the grant application and were very pleasantly surprised to learn their grant won JJC the funds needed to start the farmers' market.   One reason JJC was selected, according to Theimer, is that the government considers JJC's location to be a food dessert, meaning residents lack local access to fresh fruits and vegetables.  JJC was awarded the grant with the charge to accept the LINK card so that low-income residents can access the market, according to the USDA website.   Theimer is hoping JJC's "LINK students will come to the market and purchase fresh fruits and vegetables."  

Station at the JJC Farmers' Market where LINK funds can be exchanged for tokens that can be used to buy fruits and vegetables from vendors

 After learning of the grant's success, Theimer and JJC staff scrambled to put the market together.  Market managers from other towns freely shared contacts and tips on bringing farmers to the market.  Theimer remembers that other managers wanted JJC's market to be a success and "helped us with open arms, they don't see us as competitors."   Many connections were made when JJC staff attended the Illinois Specialty Crop Growers' Conference.   

The grant is for two years and the money is being used to pay a part-time market manager and a student worker.  Grant money purchased the tents, tables, and chairs used by the farmers.  After the grant money ends, JJC will support the market, according to Theimer.

Farmer and her produce at the JJC Farmers' Market

The Farmers Market is just one part of a growing horticulture and agriculture program at JJC.  JJC students are currently working on projects such as growing vegetables in a high tunnel--a structure which extends the growing season into the winter months.  Students have the opportunity to learn fruit and nut tree production and how to grow fruits hydroponically.  Students work with professors to grow 450 grape plants, whose fruits are then sold to Fox Valley Winery.  Just last week, the college approved a new program of study--Environmental Horticulture Production and Design--which may begin as early as Fall 2015.  As consumer interest in how food is produced grows, JJC is providing students with the education needed to fill jobs in the field of food production.

The market is held on the Main Campus, 1215 Houbolt Road in Joliet, every Thursday from May 23 to Oct. 24 (except July 4) 3 to 7 p.m. in the area around the Greenhouse Facility, accessible directly from Houbolt. Visitors can park in the lot next to the Greenhouse, which is on the west side of Houbolt.

The September 12, 2013 market is the Back to School Fair and will feature kids' activities, face painting, arts and crafts, a fire truck, and a visit from the Hines VA Hospital Bus which will provide medical screenings.  JJC's technical programs will give demonstrations and provide info on college programs.