SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Promoting homegrown food provided the centerpiece at the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s tent at the state fair.
During the opening weekend of the fair, Aug. 12-14, free local food samples were provided at an artisan market.
Featured artisans with samples included: A Lil Sumpin’ Special desserts, Fruit of the Spirit jam, Glaciers End shrubs, Golden Hour Bake House, Grand Oak Farm Breads, Hellowater, JR’s Seasoning, Peter’s Produce snacks, Prevail Jerky, Rolling Lawns Farm dairy products, Ropp Jersey Cheese, Spiceocity seasonings, Uncle Joe’s BBQ, Umland’s Crunchy Cheese, and Whisk Me Away Bakery.
Apple cider slushies, watermelon, soft-serve ice cream, sweet corn and peaches were available for sale at the Illinois Specialty Growers farmstand in the IDOA tent throughout the fair.
“Over the course of the last year and half our locally grown products have become more important than ever,” said IDOA Director Jerry Costello II.
“People want to know where their food is coming from and to give them the chance to meet the farmers growing it is even better. We had farmers from traditional to urban, covering the full scope of Illinois agriculture.”
Illinois Product Store
This marked the second year for the Illinois Product Store which opened in the IDOA tent on Monday, Aug. 15, and remained opened for the rest of the fair.
The mini-grocery store showcased the diversity of products produced in the Prairie State. Prior to last year, a different business owner would have a booth each day of fair.
“It is sponsored by Hy-Vee this year, and we’re really excited for that partnership. We had this idea because we like to get vendors and business owners inside the tent to meet the public, provide samples and sell their products,” said Jackie Sambursky, IDOA bureau chief of marketing, promotion and grants.
“However, it’s really hard for business owners, especially the small ‘mom and pop’ business owners to be able to be here the whole fair. Sometimes the weekdays of the fair may be a little slower, so sometimes it’s not as worth it for a business owner to come out here, especially the small mom and pop businesses.
“So, we thought why don’t we sell it on behalf of the business with a popup consignment market for the rest of the fair.”
Sambursky said visitors are surprised of the diversity the state offers in local products the go far beyond corn, soybeans and livestock.
“We are the No. 1 producer of horseradish in southern Illinois. We are the No. 1 producer of pumpkins in Morton, Illinois. People are unaware and surprised of that, but then, also, Chicago is the No. 2 food cluster in the nation,” she said.
“Chicago is actually an ag powerhouse, and I think people are surprised to learn about that, too. The river system that comes out of Chicago and into the rest of Illinois really powers a lot of traditional ag, but it also has allowed for a long history of processed food.
“Illinois was No. 1 in processed food sales in 2021 with $178 billion in sales. That’s both domestic and international sales. U.S. products in general are sought after internationally. Here at the Illinois Department of Agriculture we try to do things to get Illinois ag and processed food companies in front of people both domestically and internationally.”
A wide variety of products were available at the store, ranging from popcorn to honey to cheese.
“We have Turasky’s meat from right across the road from the fairgrounds. We have Rolling Lawns milk from Greenville, Illinois, that was just bottled two days ago,” Sambursky said.
“People love our popcorn. Popcorn is the official state snack of Illinois. Creekstone Kettle Works popcorn of Raymond, Illinois, is also the popcorn vendor in the grandstand, and that is a great way that IDOA supports local businesses, too.
“We have Donny B’s Popcorn. They have a lot of different flavors and it’s fun to watch people trying them out.
“We have a new product, Fooze Balls, from a company that started in New Zealand and moved their business to Chicago. It’s a protein ball that’s completely vegan. They have peanut butter and jelly and lemon cheesecake and it’s very difficult to figure out which flavor is the best.
“We have some local baked goods. We have Riley’s Seasoning. Riley’s has had a long partnership with IDOA and we’re thankful we can continue that partnership through the Illinois Products Store. We have Ropp Jersey cheese curds.
“It’s all delicious and we’re really thankful,” Sambursky added.