Illinois organic farmers adapt as industry changes
ATLANTA, Ill. (AP) — Organic farmers in Illinois are adapting their business practices due to a shift in the local market prompted in part by large grocers offering organic produce and meal-kit startups gaining popularity.
Many small organic fruit and vegetable producers have traditionally relied on sales through community-supported agriculture programs, in which community members pay for a weekly box of vegetables, The Chicago Tribune reported . But such sales are decreasing as retail options change.
"It's not necessarily that the local food movement is going away. It's more of a change in how consumers are buying food," said Raghela Scavuzzo, local foods program manager for the Illinois Farm Bureau.
Farmers need to adapt to the industry changes, said Arthur Neal, the deputy administrator of the transportation and marketing program for the United States Department of Agriculture.
"Farmers are not immune from having to deal with market competition and production innovation," he said.
They should consider selling produce to food hubs, which can help them with marketing and distribution, Neal said. Partnering with other farmers is also key, he said.
Hans and Katie Bishop run PrairiErth Farm in Atlanta, Illinois, a rural area about 30 miles (48 kilometers) southeast of Peoria. The Bishops said they're making many changes to how they run their business, such as expanding the company's wholesale business, partnering with other farms and allowing CSA members to select what goes into their boxes for an additional cost.
"They always say, 'The consumer is fickle,' and it's true. They know exactly what they want. So being able to meet that demand, and it's ever-changing, has always been very difficult," Katie Bishop said.
Despite the competitive challenges, PrairiErth is seeing business grow with projected gross annual sales of $475,000, up about 5 percent from last year.