Illinois Farm to Food Bank Feasibility Study & Pilot Projects

Cover page of the farm to food bank feasibility study report

Project Title: Illinois Farm to Food Bank Feasibility Study & Pilot Projects 

Sectors: Non-profits, Hunger Relief Agencies, Agriculture 

Location: Illinois, Statewide 

Services: Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Implementation Assistance, Resilient Solutions, Stakeholder Engagement, Supply Chain Sustainability, Sustainability Planning, Waste Management 

Background: In early 2020, staff from Feeding Illinois and the Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) began discussions related to expansion of programs and opportunities for moving surplus food commodities to hunger relief agencies throughout the state. These agencies reached out to the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) to discuss the types of data and analyses needed to support such efforts. Plans began for a feasibility study, involving collaboration with the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, (ISGA) to expand and improve farm to food bank commodity flows. After receiving funding from the USDA, Feeding Illinois engaged TAP to conduct the feasibility study in collaboration with various project partners (See the “Acknowledgements” section of the feasibility report). 

Approach: In order to better understand how Feeding Illinois food banks operate, TAP visited all eight member foods banks to tour the facilities and conduct informal interviews on the topic of fresh foods. TAP also virtually met with organizations managing Farm to Food Bank-style programs around the country to learn about their programmatic approaches, farmer compensation models, daily challenges, and recommended best practices. In total, TAP interviewed organizations from 14 states: Arizona, California, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. Overarching themes and key lessons from these various interviews were compiled. (See “Exploring the Development of an Illinois Farm to Food Bank Program” in the “Results” section below.) 

Beginning in January of 2021, TAP administered a voluntary survey of Illinois farmers to better understand current farming practices, available market channels, and barriers to working with food banks. Data used from this survey was intended to develop strategies to expand commodity markets available to farmers and increase the supply of fresh food at food banks and food pantries. (See “Farm to Food Bank Survey Results” in the “Results” section below.) 

Additionally, TAP administered five farmer focus groups to gather more in-depth feedback and opinions on options for off-grade and surplus produce as well as facets of a Farm to Food Bank program. TAP hosted two in-person focus groups at the Illinois Specialty Growers Conference in Springfield, IL on January 5-7th, 2022, and three virtual focus groups hosted on Zoom. Two of the virtual focus groups took place January 12th and one on February 1st, 2022. Focus groups were each one hour long and consisted of four to six participants, with a total of 25 farmers participating. TAP worked with IFB to ensure participants included individuals from across the state as well as minority, women, and urban farmers. Participants also represented a wide range of ages. Farmers invited to participate were those that indicated interest on the ISTC administered survey and suggestions from the IFB and the ISGA. To be eligible, participants had to be 18 years of age and operated a farm or garden within Illinois. No compensation was provided for participating in the focus groups. A consent form was signed by each participant and strategies to ensure confidentiality and anonymity were read aloud at the start of each session. The described protocols were evaluated as exempt for review by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Institutional Review Board (Protocol #22325). Focus group format consisted of an introduction to the research project, an ice breaker, and eight key questions with follow-ups and prompts. The same eight questions were asked during all five focus group sessions. Feedback was analyzed and compiled in the feasibility study report prepared by the ISTC TAP for Feeding Illinois. (See “Exploring the Development of an Illinois Farm to Food Bank Program” in the “Results” section below.) 

A preliminary pilot project was also included in the original feasibility study. Feeding Illinois partnered with Rendleman Orchards during the 2021 growing season to ensure no fruit went to waste. Through the USDA’s Farm to Food Bank grant, Feeding Illinois was able to pay Rendleman Orchards its picking and pack-out costs (PPO) which represent the farm’s costs to harvest and package the product and enabled the donation of the peaches, nectarines, and apples. The fruit was either off-spec, meaning it did not qualify to be sold in typical primary markets due to size/weight/blemishes, or surplus, meaning that the farmer did not have a buyer or market outlet for the fruit. Rather than the fruit going to waste, Feeding Illinois helped Rendleman Orchards recoup their costs and provide fresh local nutritious fruit to Illinois neighbors in need. After completion of the growing season, TAP and Feeding Illinois worked with Rendleman Orchards, Tri- State Food Bank, and St. Louis Area Foodbank to gain feedback and evaluate the pilot project. All parties were very happy with the result of the project and would like to increase participation in 2022. (See “Farm to Food Bank Pilot: Rendleman Orchards” in the “Results” section below.) 

Through these interviews, surveys, focus groups, and pilot projects it became clear that a such a program would be welcomed by both the farming and food banking communities. In April 2022, a report prepared by the ISTC TAP for Feeding Illinois was published summarizing research efforts undertaken from December 2020 – February 2022 that have led to this conclusion along with identifying strengths, weaknesses, threats, opportunities, and recommendations for a statewide Farm to Food Bank program. (See “Exploring the Development of an Illinois Farm to Food Bank Program” in the “Results” section below.) 

In the remainder of 2022, extending into 2023, TAP will work with Feeding Illinois and other project partners to continue pilot project efforts with Rendleman Orchards. Additional pilot projects with other growers and farmers markets will be conducted to test various fresh food aggregation strategies. The project team will also continue outreach and engagement efforts with farmers to both increase participation and gather feedback on the program. 

Results: This project is ongoing. Below are links to publications, websites, and relevant results to date. 

 Other projects with this client (Feeding Illinois): None currently, as this project is ongoing. 

Materials Management Advisory Committee Report to the General Assembly

Illinois EPA logo

Project Title: Materials Management Advisory Committee Report to the General Assembly

Sector: State Government
Location: Illinois, Statewide
Service(s): Sustainability Planning, Stakeholder Engagement, Resilient Solutions

Background: In July 2019, Governor Pritzker signed House Bill 3068, which created the Statewide Materials Management Advisory Committee (MMAC). Coordinated by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and comprised of a wide variety of recycling, composting, materials management, and solid waste professionals, the Committee was charged with investigating current recycling and solid waste practices and recommending options to the Illinois General Assembly to divert wastes from Illinois landfills. These recommendations were also meant to include improvements to the form and contents of county waste management plan required by Illinois law.

Shantanu Pai of the ISTC Technical Assistance Program (TAP) served as co-chair (along with Suzanne Boring of the Illinois EPA) for the MMAC Measurement Subcommittee. Additional subcommittees existed for education and outreach, infrastructure development, market development, and local government support. Though not official members of the MMAC or its subcommittees, TAP staff members Savannah Feher, April Janssen Mahajan, and Joy Scrogum provided support to the measurement subcommittee and to the overall efforts of the MMAC and Illinois EPA coordinating team for achievement of the MMAC goals.

Approach: The primary purpose of the Measurement Subcommittee was to identify, capture, and evaluate existing data reflecting the state of waste and materials management in Illinois in 2018, the base year for the reported data. Using those data, the Measurement Subcommittee was tasked with developing a matrix reflecting the environmental impacts of diverting specific materials from landfills and relaying that information to the entire Committee. This data was gathered through multiple efforts, including a statewide survey sent to all Illinois counties to gather information about solid waste planning, reporting, and programs across the state, as well as outreach to all documented waste infrastructure sites across the state (including transfer stations and collection sites for landfill-bound, recyclable and compostable materials) to verify site status and details. This infrastructure information was then used to create interactive maps that allow users to access accurate and up-to-date information regarding disposal options near them.

The overall MMAC findings, along with the associated recommendations from various subcommittees, were compiled in report form and submitted to the 102nd General Assembly on July 1, 2021.

Results: The full MMAC report submitted to the Illinois General Assembly is available online at https://www2.illinois.gov/epa/topics/waste-management/materials-management/Documents/MMAC_Report_Approved_7_1.pdf.

An ISTC blog post provided an overview of this effort.

Monitor the Illinois General Assembly website and the Illinois EPA Materials Management pages for future updates. See also the recorded Illinois Recycling Association/Illinois Recycling Foundation webinar from April 2021 in which provided an overview of the MMAC draft recommendations at that time.

Other Projects with this Client (Illinois EPA): https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/illinois-environmental-protection-agency-epa/

Forest Preserve District of Cook County Clean Energy Framework

cover of FPDCC Clean Energy Framework document

Project Title: Forest Preserve District of Cook County Clean Energy Framework

Sector: Parks and Recreation
Location:
Forest Preserves of Cook County, Illinois
Services:
Resilient Solutions (Climate Resiliency), Sustainability Planning, Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Implementation Assistance

Background: ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP) and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (Forest Preserves) have a history of working together to improve sustainability. In 2014, the Forest Preserves, a public agency responsible for protecting and preserving nearly 70,000 acres of natural areas and public open space, engaged TAP to evaluate the current state of materials management operations, assess opportunities for improvement, and take steps toward making the Forest Preserves a national leader, among similar organizations, in waste reduction practices. The success of that project led the Forest Preserves to engage TAP to assist in developing and implementing their Sustainability and Climate Resiliency Plan, which was released in September 2018. That plan hinged upon an overall goal to reduce the Forest Preserves’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80% by 2050 from a 2016 baseline. It also identified a road map for Forest Preserve lands to be resilient in a changing climate, recognizing that such conditions will significantly impact land management operations as the range and distribution of species shift, along with the availability of water and other key aspects of the local ecosystem.

On January 22, 2019, in response to a United Nations International Panel on Climate Change report, which demonstrated that the consequences of man-made climate change will become irreversible in 12 years if global carbon emissions are not immediately and dramatically reduced, the Forest Preserves of Cook County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted a Net Zero Resolution. This resolution revised the 80% GHG emissions reduction goal to net-zero by 2050, as well as reducing facility GHG emissions by 45% by 2030 and committing to the development of a renewable energy plan. 

TAP is currently working with the Forest Preserves on updating their Sustainability & Climate Resiliency Plan accordingly, while simultaneously assisting with the implementation of previously identified objectives and strategies to achieve their ambitious GHG reduction goals.

Approach: Beginning in 2020, TAP worked with various stakeholders, both internal to the Forest Preserves and external, to assist in the development of a Clean Energy Framework for the Preserves.

With regard to external stakeholders, TAP reviewed the efforts of other local government entities with renewable energy goals. To orient the Forest Preserve’s efforts with existing and emerging national trends, TAP analyzed the renewable energy goals, policies and progress in municipalities and counties across the country. In particular, TAP focused on communities included on the Ready for 100 list compiled by the Sierra Club, comprised of over 160 cities, counties, and states across the U.S. that have goals to power their communities with 100% clean, renewable energy. Those cities and counties with a target year of 2025-2036 for their renewable energy goals were exclusively targeted as the experiences of these entities might be expected to be analogous to that of the Forest Preserves as they work to attain their goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2030. A brief online survey was developed, and an email was sent to the identified contacts at peer communities with a link to the survey, asking them to provide answers as a means of helping ISTC to learn about their successes, challenges, approaches to implementation, and any other relevant information which they would like to share. Emerging themes from responses were compiled, summarized, and used in the development of the Clean Energy Framework.

The Framework itself is modeled after the Cook County Clean Energy Plan. The Forest Preserves of Cook County Clean Energy Framework documents existing conditions through a needs assessment and review of current initiatives. Further, it prioritizes renewable energy technologies and strategies which the Forest Preserves might employ and creates a roadmap to achieving the Forest Preserves’ 2030 and 2050 goals. A Net Zero Emissions implementation schedule is presented, and the relationships between the Clean Energy Framework objectives and the objectives of the broader Sustainability & Climate Resiliency Plan are outlined.

Within the Framework it is noted that to actualize the goals and strategies outlined, energy conservation and efficiency of the many existing facilities must be prioritized and continuously pursued to reduce the existing operational footprint of the Forest Preserves. On a parallel course, the concept of green building must be thoroughly explored, redefined, and codified to embody building operations, ecosystem services, and renewable energy generation, fully encompassing the Preserves’ values of environmental stewardship and fostering human well-being in any building upgrade or new building project. Simultaneously, the Forest Preserves must aggressively pursue vetting, selecting and ongoing implementation of on-site renewable energy systems, coupled with collaborative pursuit, in partnership with Cook County, of a large-scale renewable energy installation, and sourcing of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to account for any emissions balances.

Principal authors of the Framework include Anthony D. Tindall, Policy & Sustainability Manager of the Forest Preserves of Cook County, along with April Janssen Mahajan, Joy Scrogum, Savannah Feher, and Shantanu Pai of TAP. Jennifer Martin of TAP was also among the advisors for the report.

Results: The Clean Energy Framework was finalized in May 2021 and adopted by the Forest Preserves’ Board of Commissioners in June 2021.

Other projects with this client: https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/forest-preserve-district-of-cook-county/

Forest Preserve District of Cook County Sustainability & Climate Resiliency Plan

FPDCC sustainability and climate resiliency plan cover

Project Title: Forest Preserve District of Cook County Sustainability & Climate Resiliency Plan 

Sector: Parks and Recreation
Location: Forest Preserves of Cook County, Illinois
Services: Resilient Solutions (Climate Resiliency), Sustainability Planning, Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Implementation Assistance

Background: In 2014 the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (Forest Preserves), a public agency responsible for protecting and preserving nearly 70,000 acres of natural areas and public open space, engaged ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP) to evaluate the current state of materials management operations, assess opportunities for improvement, and take steps toward making the Forest Preserves a national leader, among similar organizations, in waste reduction practices. The success of that project led the Forest Preserves to engage TAP to assist in developing and implementing their Sustainability and Climate Resiliency Plan. 

Approach: The process of developing this Plan, nine months in the making, included an internal and external review of past sustainability efforts, focus groups and engagement sessions across the operations within the Forest Preserves and Cook County government, and numerous topic-specific meetings. Priorities outlined in the plan, and their underlining strategies, reflect the Forest Preserves’ direction for a sustainable future.  

This Plan is based on the vision, described in the Forest Preserves’ Next Century Conservation Plan, of being a leader in sustainable practices. As an important part of their founding mission to protect and preserve our public lands and waters, the Forest Preserves of Cook County commit to using sustainable and low-impact practices in operations and challenge ourselves to consistently perform all our functions in the most environmentally responsible ways. 

Results: Published in September 2018, the plan hinges upon an overall goal to reduce the Forest Preserves’ greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 from a 2016 baseline. It also identifies a road map for Forest Preserve lands to be resilient in a changing climate, recognizing that such conditions will significantly impact land management operations as the range and distribution of species shift, along with the availability of water and other key aspects of the local ecosystem.

The plan is divided into five priority areas: 

Utilities & Emissions 

  • Focus areas include GHG emissions measuring, reporting and reductions; green infrastructure integration; and water use tracking and efficiency 
  • Major objectives include reducing energy consumption by 4.5 percent annually and developing green building and site standards for future projects 

Preserve Operations 

  • Focus areas include transportation and waste and recycling 
  • Major objectives include reducing fuel usage by 4.5 percent annually and expanding the recycling program to all Forest Preserve facilities 

Learning & Engagement 

  • Focus areas include awareness and visibility, community engagement, and employee engagement 
  • Major objectives include promoting green practices with permit holders and enhancing Earth Day sustainability programming 

Ecological Sustainability 

  • Focus areas include natural resources management and practices 
  • Major objectives include establishing Mitigating Impacts to Nature Policy as well as a Native Seed Policy outreach plan 

Implementation & Advancement 

  • Focus areas include green purchasing 
  • Major objectives include establishing a Green Purchasing Policy, establishing and promoting a plastic reduction campaign, and increasing energy rebates and incentives with utilities 

The full 2018 plan with complete objectives and targets, is available at http://hdl.handle.net/2142/101837.  

On January 22, 2019, in response to a United Nations International Panel on Climate Change report, which demonstrated that the consequences of man-made climate change will become irreversible in 12 years if global carbon emissions are not immediately and dramatically reduced, the Forest Preserves of Cook County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted a Net Zero Resolution. This resolution revises the 80% GHG emissions reduction goal to net-zero by 2050, as well as reducing facility GHG emissions by 45% by 2030 and committing to the development of a renewable energy plan. 

TAP is currently working with the Forest Preserves on plan implementation. This in part includes identifying the most advantageous renewable energy strategies, guiding evaluation of equipment in nearly 300 facilities for energy efficiency upgrades, developing a means to track emissions reduction efforts and progress, and updating the Sustainability and Climate Resiliency Plan accordingly. 

To help accomplish their GHG reduction goals, TAP worked with the Forest Preserves to develop a Clean Energy Framework, which was adopted by the Forest Preserves of Cook County Board of Commissioners in June 2021.   

 Other projects with this client: https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/forest-preserve-district-of-cook-county/ 

University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Sustainable Materials Management Plan

UIC SMM plan coverProject Title: University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan

Sector: Higher Education
Location: Chicago, IL
Services: Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Resilient Solutions, Stakeholder Engagement, Sustainability Planning, Waste Characterization and Management

Background: UIC engaged the ISTC Technical Assistance Program zero waste team to conduct a waste characterization study and assist with the development of a sustainable materials management plan.

Approach: Beginning in 2019, many stakeholders observed current waste management practices and coordinated and conducted a waste characterization study to represent campus-wide activities. Study results and annual material generation data were analyzed and extrapolated, campus focus groups were held to provide input for ideal material management, and the research and recommendations were collated into one comprehensive plan to increase waste diversion and ultimately achieve a zero-waste campus.

UIC partnered with TAP to conduct the waste audit, engage stakeholders, and spearhead plan development. The plan identifies nearly 100 strategies for waste reduction and diversion and was informed by the results of a November 2019 waste audit, along with insightful input received from students, faculty, staff, and community members.

The waste characterization study included more than 3,300 pounds of trash from 14 buildings and outdoor campus collection bins sorted into 32 material categories.

The audit team used an activity zone approach to capture waste from buildings by use, such as administrative offices, academic and lab settings, student residence halls, and multi-use spaces.

Landfill and recycling bins from various outdoor areas of campus, such as along internal walking paths, busy urban corridors, and in parking structures, comprised an “On-the-go” activity zone. The study team and an enthusiastic group of student, staff, and faculty volunteers sorted the waste over the course of a wintery week.

Co-led by ISTC, and UIC’s Office of Planning Sustainability and Project Management (PSPM), a team of staff, faculty, and students from various departments, external partners and industry experts developed the Sustainable Materials Management Plan.

Together team members worked to document and understand current waste management practices and analyzed waste generation. The Plan categorizes campus waste to show what is avoidable, currently recyclable, compostable, potentially recyclable, and non-recoverable.

The data revealed that 33% of the overall waste stream on campus is compostable material, such as food scraps. Nineteen percent of the waste stream is composed of recyclable materials such as paper or plastic bottles. Eighteen percent of the waste stream on campus consists of avoidable materials such as paper towels and disposable beverage cups. Five percent of the waste stream is comprised of potentially recyclable material such as plastic film and gloves that could be diverted through source-separated streams.

The remaining 24% of the waste stream consists of materials that are currently non-recoverable, i.e. items for which recovery end markets or programs do not yet exist, or for which solutions are not yet available at UIC or in surrounding areas. This includes items like single-use equipment and other non-recyclable paper, glass and plastic items.

“Data has been a critical part of our success in reaching almost a 50% recycling rate at UIC over the past decade, even while the number of students on campus has grown by 20%. With the help of data, the recycling program at UIC has vanquished a once prevalent view that Chicago doesn’t recycle. With the report from the ISTC led waste audit, the volume of food scraps, and the presence of currently recyclable materials point to impactful steps we must take in waste reduction, outreach, and education,” stated Joe Iosbaker, UIC’s Recycling Coordinator.

Bar graph showing the percentage of various types of materials present in the UIC waste stream during the November 2019 waste audit

The study team also gathered input from members of the campus community through an online survey and a series of focus groups. Discussions shed light on knowledge, perceptions, and expectations of waste management infrastructure, the overall campus culture surrounding resource recovery, waste-related priorities, and challenges. This feedback from the UIC community was used to develop strategies to increase recycling and waste reduction. Through this multi-layer process, UIC now has a comprehensive roadmap to build from the 47% recycling rate today and prime the conditions for a zero-waste campus by 2050.

“The comprehensive presentation in the Materials Management Plan provided by ISTC gives us a greater understanding of the tasks we have,” Iosbaker asserted. Assistant Vice-Chancellor and Director of Sustainability Cindy Klein-Banai reinforced those sentiments stating, “This study has provided the data and next steps for robust strategies for reaching our Zero Waste Goal within the UIC Climate Commitments. It also demonstrates the need for broad responsibility in developing our program across all units and departments of the university.”

“ISTC’s Zero Waste team acknowledges the great potential of a comprehensive, campus-driven Sustainable Materials Management Plan,” shared April Janssen Mahajan, Sustainability Specialist at ISTC. “We fully embraced the challenges and opportunities this project offered to help UIC reconsider, reimagine and redefine campus waste and materials management in support of the university’s mission to become a Zero Waste Campus.”

Results: UIC Sustainable Materials Management Plan

Other projects with this client: None at this time

Other projects in the higher education sector: https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/higher-education/