Jo Daviess Local Foods volunteers and staff sort orders from the online farmers market.

GALENA, Ill. — For Cindy Tegtmeyer, the idea of local food is just common sense.

“There is no reason for us in the Midwest, surrounded by these farmlands, to be getting tomatoes from South America in August,” she said. “In the middle of Iowa and Illinois and Wisconsin, why would we even consider buying corn anywhere outside of a 15-mile radius?”

Through her volunteer work with online farmers market Jo Daviess Local Foods, Tegtmeyer is helping bring the benefits of local food to the surrounding communities. The market is working with Community Foundation of Jo Daviess County on a Farm to Food Pantry program, which will donate produce from farmers to local food pantries.

Market Manager Erin Keyser said the seed for JDLF was planted in 2018 as a way to unite producers and reach a wider range of customers, especially as farmers markets in smaller communities such as Stockton ceased operations.

“It feels like we’re stronger because we are able to work together and have more producers, and we’re also able to reach more communities,” she said.

Each weekend, customers browse the week’s offerings on the JDLF website at jdlf.org and place their orders by noon Monday. On Tuesday afternoons, staff and volunteers meet in Elizabeth to sort and distribute the orders.

JDLF offers home delivery anywhere within Jo Daviess County, as well as to Savanna, or customers can pick up their order at one of seven locations: Apple Canyon Lake, Apple River, Elizabeth, Galena, Galena Territory, Hanover and Stockton.

Keyser said an online market offers several advantages to customers, including a wider selection of items and the convenience of online ordering and delivery or pickup.

The online model saw a huge increase in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Keyser said JDLF’s customer base tripled in March 2020 and demand has remained high ever since.

“We’d been averaging maybe 30-35 orders a week, then it jumped to 100 orders a week in the course of a month,” she said. “It was a massive growth that happened really quickly, so we worked really hard to adapt and change the way we were doing things. I rushed out and found an old delivery van because I could no longer fit all the food in our normal car.”

During the pandemic, Tegtmeyer wanted to find a way to provide access to the market’s produce for all local families, even those who might not have the financial means to place an order.

“If the only things in your way are knowing about (local food) and affordability, we can do something about that,” Tegtmeyer said. “Those are two things we can change.”

So, JDLF piloted the Farm to Food Pantry program in December. Customers donated about $1,500 to pay local farmers for more than 1,300 pounds of produce, which JDLF donated to five food pantries.

This spring, the charitable arm of the market, JDLF Gives, received a $5,000 grant from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. Using the funding, it re-launched Farm to Food Pantry on Tuesday, June 8, and plans continue it this summer and fall, delivering at least $200 of local produce to one or two food pantries each week.

Tegtmeyer said JDLF also is working with Midwest Medical Center in Galena to launch a “produce prescriptions program” that will offer information and resources to help patients obtain nutritious local food.

“We want to expand access to sustainable, local food … so any way that we can collaborate with other organizations with the same goals and different audiences and a bigger outreach, it’s only a benefit,” she said. “It’s all about building healthier communities.”

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