ONEIDA — Popcorn as an appetizer, Caprese salad with hydroponic greens and heirloom tomatoes, and pork tenderloin can all be made from locally grown products.

“We invited leaders from local communities and organizations to introduce them to their neighbors who are local farmers working hard every day to produce food,” said Krista Swanson, one the organizing committee and whose farm hosted the Farm to Fork Gala. The idea was to give people an opportunity to start conversations about food and build beneficial relationships.

Non-GMO popcorn?

Pilot Knob Comforts Popcorn was a conversation starter. The product is labelled as non-GMO (a label some farmers say is needless since all popcorn is non-GMO). But, according to Andrew Bowman, farmer and manager, the designation is there for a reason.

“We debated heavily on putting it on the label, but it was requested by our retailers,” Bowman said.

He disagrees with “fear mongering” about GMO but wants to meet the needs of his buyers and the desires of consumers. He takes direction in his label’s content from some of his biggest buyers, including Bed Bath and Beyond outlets with food locations and Cost Plus World Market, which has 2,000 stores.

Pilot Knob Comforts Popcorn features its distinctive logo on the package, with its name coming from the farm’s location at a point between the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

Bowman also wants his labels to tell the story that their popcorn “tastes awesome and is produced on a small family farm in Knox County, engaged in its community. Knox County is kind of a hidden gem.”

Variety close at hand

The variety of products grown within 100 miles of here may surprise some, said Chef Phil Dickinson, Landmark Café & Creperie owner, who prepared the gala dinner and created its menu.

“Everything here but three items is locally grown,” he said. The elaborate menu included salmon canapés, pork tenderloin, sweet corn sautéed with bacon, pickled jalapeno and braised kale. Horseradish, honey and sweet onions were also locally sourced. The only three items not grown or produced here were sugar, balsamic vinegar and the Chinese puff bun.

“The growers here are passionate,” said Dickinson, who grew up in Chicago and has lived in Galesburg for 15 years.

One of the local suppliers, Greenlords Inc., is an organic aquaponics business.

“Our mom wanted us out of the city so we didn’t get into more trouble than we were already in,” said Demarkius Medley, founder of the company, about his family’s move from Chicago.

Medleys’ aquaponics combine aquaculture and hydroponics to produce catfish and organic greens. By cultivating fish and plants in a recirculating system, fish waste can be converted to plant food to grow organic vegetables for the community, he explained.

It may be easier to use products that have been traditionally packaged and shipped, but preparing the local foods is “part of the fun,” said Dickinson. He said the differences in sizes and packaging may make using local produce “tremendously challenging” sometimes, but it is worth it.


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