SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Visitors to the Department of Agriculture tent during the first weekend of the Illinois State Fair were treated to the diversity of locally grown food and products.
A dozen food artisans from throughout Illinois had booths in the IDOA tent Aug. 11-13 to feature their products and provide free samples.
Glaciers End of Marion was making its third appearance at the IDOA market.
“The artisan market is great because it allows people to try samples of what everyone has. Especially with our stuff, most people don’t know what a shrub is. It’s an old-fashioned drinking vinegar, so a sample really helps,” said Libby Ervin, who, along with her husband, Derek, owns and operates Glaciers End.
“Our syrups and everything we make can be used in multiple ways. So, giving people that option to try it and giving them ideas for it is good.
“We love supporting local. We love coming to this event. The Department of Agriculture is great, the Specialty Growers Association is great, Illinois Farm Bureau, and we love coming to the state fair. It has different products and it’s from all areas around the state. It’s wonderful.”
The Ervins’ farm is located at Johnston City and they now have a shop in Marion.
“We have about a 37.5-acre farm and pretty much everything we grow we turn into product. If we don’t grow it, we source from other local farmers,” Libby Ervin said.
“We’ve been doing this for about five years. We just opened a brick-and-mortar shop. We do things like fruit syrups, tree syrups, shrub and pucker drinking vinegars, grilling and hot sauces, and then all kinds of pickled items.
“The main thing we grow is elderberry. We also are very heavy into perennial berries, so goji, aronia, blackberry. We started growing some gooseberry. We have an orchard with apples, pears, persimmons and plums. We also grow a bunch of hot peppers and cucumbers.”
The Ervins moved from Chicago to the Johnston City farm about seven years ago and put in an orchard, an endeavor that take several years before one can reap the benefits.
However, they were able to expedite an opportunity to begin selling their locally grown products due to Illinois’ then-new cottage food law.
In 2018, the state’s Cottage Food Operation Law greatly expanded the type of foods allowed for sale by Illinois vendors to include chilled foods, canned tomato products, pickles and much more.
The original Cottage Food Operation Law was enacted in 2012 and was limited to only “selling non-potentially hazardous” baked goods, jams, jellies and preserves, and dried herbs. These specific food products were for direct sales to the public and Illinois farmers markets.
“While we were waiting for the orchard to grow, we heard about cottage foods. So, we realized we could turn a bunch of stuff we already had growing on our farm into products,” Libby Ervin said.
“It’s going very well, so much so that we’ve graduated from cottage food and we now have a commercial kitchen and can really start experimenting more, growing more and ramping up.”
Glaciers End can be found and several farmers markets, including the Illinois Product Expo in early March at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, the indoor winter market and outdoor summer market at Carbondale, the O’Fallon farmers markets and several others throughout southern Illinois. The shop in Marion has regular business hours throughout the year.
Utilizing such a diverse number of locally grown food results in many unique products, ranging from the new Old Ben Pasta Sauce and Cowboy Candy to Hellish Relish and Fire Cider Turnips.
Ervin was asked how they come up with ideas for so many unique products.
“My husband is the creative side. He listens to podcasts. He’s just always researching what other chefs are doing in other states, other countries — just really looking to see what we have growing on our farm and then kind of taking it from there,” she said.