Southern Illinoisans will have another avenue to acquire locally grown and produced foods as of May 1.
The Little Egypt Alliance of Farmers (LEAF) is creating an online farmers market. LEAF was founded in 2016 by seven Southern Illinois farmers to support small sustainable farms. The group’s goals are to make ordering local food easier for busy customers and to support small farmers by providing an online marketplace to sell goods.
“It will be like purchasing a pair of shoes online,” Liz DeRuntz, LEAF operations manager, said.
DeRuntz explained that the online market will operate similar to community supported agriculture (CSA) programs. Shoppers will pay up front by creating an account and depositing money into the account. It differs from a CSA in that money can be added to the account throughout the season. The cost of weekly orders will be deducted from each account.
Participants will decide the size of their annual investment, which can be as low as $200 or as high as $500 initially. Also, participants will choose what they want each week, with no weekly minimums and no penalty or loss for missing a week. To sign up, go to leaffoodhub.com and set up an account. LEAF is offering a 5 percent bonus for deposits from $200 to $350. Deposits of $351 or higher will receive a 10 percent bonus.
“It’s the same items you would get at a farmers market on Saturday in a city, only more convenient,” DeRuntz said.
On May 1, participants will be able to go online and choose items from nine farms. Farms include: Laughing Possum Farm, Cobden; Flora Bay Farm, Carbondale; River to River Farm, Tunnel Hill; Shade Tree Farm, Carbondale; Five Hen Farm, Buncombe; Little Mill Creek, Rockwood; BackAchers, Anna; All Seasons Farm, Cobden and La Colina Linda, Cobden.
Market items will include sustainably grown local produce, fruit, eggs, pork, chicken, grass-fed beef, bread, herbs, and spices, as well as farm-made specialty items like soaps, lotions, tinctures and flowers.
“We’ve all agreed to go with certified organic guidelines,” Courtney Smith of Flora Bay Farm said. “We will use no synthetic chemicals, fertilizers or sprays. Meat will be humanely sourced.”
DeRuntz said farmers have been helping each other with problems. Part of the group even went to one farm to help put plastic on a high tunnel.
All Seasons Farm is the only certified organic farm at this time. Kathy Ward said La Colina Linda is in the process of obtaining certification.
Current pickup locations will be in Carbondale, Carterville, Marion and Cobden. Smith said prices will be very similar to the prices consumers pay at the farmers market.
Smith is preparing for the market to start. The high tunnel at Flora Bay Farm has lettuce, scallions, snow peas, herbs and flowers planted. Most of what she is growing will go to her CSA and the LEAF food hub.
“I grow French intensive,” Smith said.
She will be adding to the high tunnel and planting her outdoor gardens.
“It’s always nerve wracking to start new markets,” DeRuntz said.
Farmers were trained on the web site on Wednesday, and there a few more things to finish before the market goes live May 1.