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Lincoln Land Community College’s Value-Added Local Food Program to Meet Growing Demand

Marnie Record has long understood the positive impact that local food has on people and communities. She earned her MA in Environmental Education and went on to educate and advocate for local food, which is a true passion of hers. Marnie has worked on farms, in several different non-profit and for profit institutions, and the Illinois Organic Growers Association. When she joined Lincoln Land Community College as a workforce specialist for local food, Marnie found an opportunity to make a particularly substantial contribution.

At LLCC and with the support of IGEN Career Pathways, Marnie developed a Value-Added Local Food certification program. The program prepares individuals who are involved with, or plan to pursue a career related to the culinary preparation of local food. The courses blend local food, culinary, and business disciplines; offer hands-on cooking and food preparation; and provides a creative, team-oriented environment to spur innovative food business and product ideas. “When farmers and entrepreneurs take raw agricultural products like vegetables or grains and turn them into something value-added – like jams or bread – they not only improve their income, but also contribute to community and rural economic development and enhance food choices for consumers. As demand for sustainably-grown local food outpaces supply, this program opens opportunities for a wide range of professions including farmers, aspiring food business entrepreneurs, and food service professionals,” says Marnie.

Historically, the value-added local food marketplace in central Illinois has lagged behind the national leaders of the local food community. The LLCC program is changing that by offering the training and skills needed for area farmers to develop business plans or find business partners to grow their business through value-added food production.

The certificate and its courses are filled by farmers throughout the district, who often take the courses in the slower winter months and then apply their skills and new found strategies to production. “Concentrating on value-added products in the winter strengthens the farmer’s financial sustainability through an increased income source, and also opens the door for an increased customer base,“ says Marnie.

A United States Department of Agriculture report states that direct food sales can serve as a catalyst for other income generating on-farm entrepreneurial activities. The 2007 Census of Agriculture demonstrates that direct-market farmers who add an entrepreneurial activity such as value-added products results in sales four times higher than direct sales only. “Attend any conference about local food farming and you will hear some version of the following: if you aren’t doing value-added in your farm business, your business won’t make it, “ says Marnie. “I feel great knowing that our program is supporting the health of our local agricultural community while helping Illinois catch up the rest of the nation.”