Food & Dining
Simon: Link card users see local food choices double PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Food & Dining
Written by Justin Stofferahn   
Tuesday, 24 July 2012 14:43

50 farmers’ markets in Illinois to receive federal grant funds


CARBONDALE – July 24, 2012. Thanks to a federal grant, the number of farmers’ markets in Illinois that accept Link, debit and credit cards could double, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon, a local food advocate and chair of the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council, announced today.

Simon said 41 farmers’ markets across Illinois each will receive $1,200 grants from the Illinois Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) Wireless Project. Due to popular demand, additional applications will be accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The program will enable farmers’ markets to accept Illinois Link cards, which access federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, wirelessly for the first time.  A total of 49 SNAP-certified farmers’ markets and direct-marketing farmers accepted Link cards in 2011, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, up from 15 in 2009. The wireless EBT project could bring the total to 99, or about one-third of farmers’ markets statewide, by this year’s end.

“We expect sales of local foods across Illinois, from urban gardens in Chicago to farms in Alexander County, to increase because of this program. Health benefits will follow,” Simon said. “As a state, we export more than 95 percent of our food dollars. Doubling the number of farmers’ markets accepting Link, debit and credit cards will keep more of those dollars in local communities, while improving the health of our citizens and underserved neighborhoods, at no new cost to state taxpayers.”

The wireless EBT project, funded by a grant from the USDA, aims to expand access to fresh produce for low-income residents and boost sales of local foods. The program will be administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois Department of Agriculture with support from the Lt. Governor’s office.

The funding is part of a $4 million nationwide effort by the USDA to increase SNAP use at farmers’ markets. SNAP sales at Illinois farmers’ markets totaled nearly $70,000 in 2011, an increase of over 522 percent since 2009.

“We’re excited to have this opportunity to improve opportunities for low-income individuals to obtain nutritious foods and to support local farmers,” said USDA Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Audrey Rowe. “SNAP participation at farmers' markets helps provide fresh fruit and vegetables to families and expands the customer base for local farmers - a win-win for agriculture and local communities.”

Simon and Rowe will host a media call-in at 1 p.m. today with Connie Spreen, the executive director of the Chicago not-for-profit Experimental Station, and vegetable farmers, Cheryl and Josh Dotson, of Dotson Farms in Beecher. The mother-son team, along with Josh’s wife, Bonnie, sells produce at several farmers’ markets in Chicago.

Dotson Farms began selling at farmers’ markets in 1979, when the operation was owned by Josh’s grandparents. Today the Dotsons sell a variety of tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, cantaloupe, sweet corn and 30 other kinds of vegetables at three SNAP-certified farmers’ markets in Chicago: Lincoln Square Farmers Market, Division Street Farmers Market and Pullman Farmers Market.

Since those markets began accepting Link, Josh Dotson has seen sales of his produce increase five percent at Lincoln Square and Division Street, and nearly 10 percent at Pullman which is in a low-income neighborhood situated in what is known as a food desert, or an area without easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Our farm has been selling at farmers’ markets for many years, but we gained access to a whole new set of customers when they began accepting Link cards,” Dotson said. “As a family farm, every new customer makes a difference.”

The 41 farmers’ markets that have been selected are located in 22 different counties across Illinois and range from large operations with nearly 100 vendors and artisans to tiny ventures with less than five farmers selling produce. These markets must obtain certification to accept SNAP benefits through the USDA Food and Nutrition service and sign a contract with the Illinois Department of Agriculture that requires disclosure of sales data, use of the wireless machine on all market days, and participation in required trainings, before seeking reimbursement from the program.

Participating markets will be able to keep the wireless EBT machines, but must absorb the wireless service costs after the project is complete in September 2013 or when their $1,200 grant is expended. Minimal customer service and transaction fees will not be reimbursed by the grant. Markets that are already certified and own an EBT machine can seek reimbursement as long as their certification and EBT purchase happened after November 18, 2011.

“With 1 in 7 Illinoisans currently receiving SNAP benefits, increasing the availability of EBT machines at farmers’ markets makes so much sense: SNAP customers will gain access to the healthiest foods, and potentially millions of SNAP dollars will be redirected toward local agricultural producers, enabling them to invest in and grow their businesses,” Spreen said.

Grant recipients will be provided community kits developed by the Lt. Governor’s office and the Illinois Department of Agriculture that will include training and promotional materials including an EBT implementation guide that explains SNAP regulations, how to use an EBT machine and ways to partner with community organizations to increase the sustainability of a wireless EBT program.

Markets will be required to attend one of three regional trainings that will be held in late August and led by Experimental Station and the Illinois Farmers Market Association. These trainings will be open to any farmers’ market in Illinois that would like to attend. An online presentation will be provided for markets unable to attend one of the trainings in person.

Upon completion of the program, Southern Illinois University Carbondale will use monthly sales data and market surveys to study and measure the impact wireless EBT machines and SNAP accessibility have on overall sales at farmers’ markets and will release findings at the end of 2013 or early 2014.

Additional applications for the Illinois EBT Wireless Project will be accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis. For more information, or to apply, visit or call 217-524-9129.

Illinois EBT Wireless Project Participants

Abundant Market – Tuscola Downtown Farmers Market (Tuscola)

Alton Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market (Alton)

Aurora Farmers Market East (Aurora)

Bartlett Farmers Market (Bartlett)

Bureau County Farmers Market (Princeton)

Carbondale Community Friday Night Fairs (Carbondale)

Central Park Farmers Market (Decatur)

City of Mendota Farmer’s Market (Mendota)

Clark County Farmers Market (Martinsville)

Clinton Area Farmers and Artisans Market (Clinton)

Deerfield Farmers Market (Deerfield)

DeKalb Farmers’ Market (DeKalb)

Discover Sycamore’s Farmers Market (Sycamore)

Elmwood Park Farmers Market (Elmwood Park)

F.R.E.S.H. Farmers Market (East St. Louis)

French Market (Villa Park)

George Washington Carver Farmers Market (Chicago)

Haymarket Square Park Farmers Market (Dixon)

Hinsdale Farmers Market (Hinsdale)

Hopkins Park/Pembroke Farmers’ Market (Pembroke Township)

Huntley Farmers Market (Huntley)

La Grange Farmers Market (La Grange)

Lincoln Square Thursday Evening Farmers Market (Chicago)

Lockport Farmer’s Market (Lockport)

Loyola Farmers Market (Chicago)

Main Street Farmers Market of Olney (Olney)

Morton Grove Farmers’ Market (Morton Grove)

Northbrook Farmers Market (Northbrook)

Old Capitol Farmers Market (Springfield)

Oswego Country Market (Oswego)

Palos Heights Farmers Market (Palos Heights)

Portage Park Farmers Market (Chicago)

Ravinia’s Farmers Market (Chicago)

Ridgeville Farmers’ Market (Evanston)

Seaway Bank Farmers Market (Chicago)

Shelbyville Farmers Market (Shelbyville)

Skokie’s Farmers Market (Skokie)

The Land of Goshen Community Market (Edwardsville)

Trinity United Church of Christ Farmers Market (Chicago)

Twin City Market (Sterling)

Uptown Farmers Market at Weiss Memorial Hospital (Chicago)



Hotel Blackhawk's Bix Bistro Is Wine Spectator 2012 Award of Excellence Recipient PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Food & Dining
Written by Tim Heim   
Tuesday, 17 July 2012 09:40

Yearly national award recognizes theme, selections in choosing recipients

Davenport, IA – Bix Bistro, the restaurant within Hotel Blackhawk, has been chosen as a 2012 Award of Excellence recipient by Wine Spectator, the preeminent voice of the wine industry. The award will be featured in the August issue of the magazine (hitting newsstands July 24th).

An Award of Excellence is received by a restaurant whose lists offer a well-chosen selection of quality producers, along with a thematic match to the menu in both price and style. Typically, these lists offer at least 100 selections. The recognition is part of Wine Spectator’s annual Restaurant Wine List Awards.

“We’re delighted to have Bix Bistro recognized by Wine Spectator,” said Hotel Blackhawk General Manager Tim Heim. “It’s very rewarding to see our food and beverage team, including Abe Blair, our Assistant Food and Beverage Manager, setting this standard in the Quad Cities.”

Wine Spectator began in 1976 as a tabloid newspaper with circulation of under 5,000. It is now the most widely-read wine magazine in the world. In 1996, it launched and is the online source for news and information about the wine industry. The site includes archives of over 250,000 wine reviews.

Hotel Blackhawk re-opened December 15th, 2010. The hotel retains its 95-year-old historic character while featuring modern conveniences throughout the 130 guestrooms and extended-stay suites, six meeting rooms and up to 300-person banquet capacity in the signature Gold Room.

Other features include wireless internet, a fitness center, business center, swimming pool, hot tub, Spa Luce (lu-CHAY), Milan Flower Shop, the Bix Bistro restaurant, the Beignet (been-YAY) Done That coffee shop and Blackhawk Bowl & Martini Lounge. The hotel is part of the Summit Hotels & Resorts group ( and the Historic Hotels of America network (

For more, visit or find us on (Search: Hotel Blackhawk).


Galena Cellars awarded at 2012 Illinois State Fair Wine Competition PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Food & Dining
Written by Janelle Keeffer   
Friday, 06 July 2012 13:16

GALENA—Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery, at the hand of winemaker Christine (Chris) Lawlor-White, was honored with 19 awards, including the prestigious Governor’s Cup for its Vineyard Rosé produced from Illinois-grown fruit, two Top Awards for Wines from any Appellation and seven “Best of Category” designations at the recently held 2012 Illinois State Fair Wine Competition.

Sponsored and coordinated by the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association (IGGVA), the Illinois State Fair Wine Competition was held June 25-27, 2012 at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield where nearly 400 local wines (266 commercial entries) were presented to the panel of twelve judges.

Galena Cellars had five varietals that received a double gold award (consensus gold when all judges award the wine a gold medal) and were also rated best in their category for their Blackberry, Vineyard Rosé, Eric the Red, Daffodil and Traminette wine.

In total, Galena Cellars earned one Governor’s Cup, two top-awarded wines from any appellation designations, seven best of category awards, five double gold, one gold, eight silver and two bronze awards.

“We are excited and honored to receive these awards, and are especially proud of our Illinois-grown grapes and fruit,” said winemaker Chris Lawlor-White.

According to IGGVA, in total, the commercial competition awarded 40 gold medals, 99 silver medals and 87 bronze medals. A ceremony and public tasting of the award-winning wines will be held Tuesday, August 14th at the Illinois Wine Experience during the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, Illinois.

IGGVA, established in 1992, is a non-profit organization dedicated to developing the viticulture and enology interests of Illinois through information exchange and cooperation among Illinois grape producers and vintners.

The Illinois wine industry has exploded in recent years, growing from just 12 wineries in 1997 to nearly 100 today. During this time, the acreage devoted to grape production has grown at a tremendous rate, and today Illinois is consistently among the top 12 wine-producing states. Today the Illinois wine industry creates a direct economic impact of more than $319 million annually on the Illinois economy.

Galena Cellars Vineyard, established in 1990 in rural Galena, Illinois, is home to 22 different specialty grapes, many of which are hybrids developed by universities throughout the country in an effort to create a vine and grape with the hardiness needed to grow in this region. The vineyard is open to the public April through November for tours, tastings and special events. Galena Cellars also offers tasting rooms, wine patios and gift shops in downtown Galena and Geneva, Illinois.

#   #   #


2012 Illinois State Fair Wine Competition Results for Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery





Hybrid Blush/Rosé

Vineyard Rosé


Governor’s Cup, Double Gold (Consensus Gold—all judges
awarded a gold medal), Best of Category




Top Awards for Wines from any Appellation + Double Gold (Consensus Gold—all judges
awarded a gold medal) + Best of Category

La Crosse



Double Gold (Consensus Gold—all judges
awarded a gold medal), Best of Category

Marechal Foch

Eric the Red


Top Awards for Wines from any Appellation

+ Double Gold (Consensus Gold—all judges
awarded a gold medal)




Double Gold (Consensus Gold—all judges
awarded a gold medal), Best of Category

Sparkling, Carbonated

Frizzante di Muscat Canelli



Seyval Blanc

Seyval Blanc




Britt White



St. Croix

Vineyard Red


Silver, Best of Category

Interspecific White Blends

General’s White



Interspecific White Blends




Flower / Vegetable



Silver, Best of Category


Late Harvest Riesling



Flavored Dessert

May Wine



Interspecific Red Blends

Vintage Red



Other Fruits




#     #     #

Spanish-Language Virtual Expert Answers Food Safety Questions on Your Smartphone PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Food & Dining
Written by Catherine Cochran   
Tuesday, 26 June 2012 13:37

Take “Mobile Pregúntele a Karen” with you for on-the-go tips to prevent

foodborne illness this summer

WASHINGTON, June 26, 2012—A new Spanish-language food safety app is available to consumers around the clock on their mobile devices, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today. “Mobile Pregúntele a Karen” is the Spanish-language version of Mobile Ask Karen, the virtual expert who answers smartphone users’ questions about properly handling, storing and preparing food to prevent illness. The English version of Mobile Ask Karen was launched in May 2011.


“Expanding our food safety information to multiple languages means we are reaching a wider audience and preventing more foodborne illness,” said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen. “As consumers become familiar with these user-friendly mobile applications, they will develop good food safety habits and have instant access to reliable food safety information.”


The Pregúntele a Karen website has been available from desktop browsers since September 2010. However, FSIS recognized that consumers often need answers to questions like, “To what temperature should I cook steak?” or, “How can I keep food safe outdoors?” when they are not able to access a computer. The new mobile format now allows people to take the food safety information “Karen” provides in Spanish with them to the barbecue grill, farmers market, grocery store and kitchen.


Both Mobile Pregúntele a Karen, which is optimized for iOS and Android devices, and the desktop-based Pregúntele a Karen are available 24 hours a day at or, with more than 1,200 food safety answers searchable by topic and by product. Consumers can also email, chat with a live representative, or call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline directly from the app. To use these features on the app, simply choose “Contact Us” from the menu. The live chat option and the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), are available in Spanish and English from l0 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.


Mobile Pregúntele a Karen is part of a multi-faceted USDA initiative to prevent foodborne illness. As part of this initiative, USDA recently joined the Ad Council, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to launch Food Safe Families, a consumer food safety education campaign. Food Safe Families is the first joint public service campaign to empower families to further reduce their risk of foodborne illness at home by checking their key food safety steps: clean, separate, cook, and chill. For more information, go to


Today's action is in addition to other significant public health measures FSIS has put in place during President Barack Obama's Administration to date to safeguard the food supply, prevent foodborne illness, and improve consumers' knowledge about the food they eat. These initiatives support the three core principles developed by the President's Food Safety Working Group: prioritizing prevention; strengthening surveillance and enforcement; and improving response and recovery. Some of these actions include:

  • Test-and-hold policy that will significantly reduce consumer exposure to unsafe meat products, should the policy become final, because products cannot be released into commerce until Agency test results for dangerous contaminants are known.
  • Labeling requirements that provide better information to consumers about their food by requiring nutrition information for single-ingredient raw meat and poultry products and ground or chopped products.
  • Public Health Information System, a modernized, comprehensive database with information on public health trends and food safety violations at the nearly 6,100 plants FSIS regulates.
  • Performance standards for poultry establishments for continued reductions in the occurrence of pathogens. After two years of enforcing the new standards, FSIS estimates that approximately 5,000 illnesses will be prevented each year under the new Campylobacter standards, and approximately 20,000 illnesses will be prevented under the revised Salmonella standards each year.


Iowa Distillery Releases Seasonal Strawberry Vodka PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Food & Dining
Written by Ryan Burchett   
Tuesday, 26 June 2012 12:55

Le Claire, Iowa, June 26, 2012 – Mississippi River Distilling Company is excited to announce the release of their newest seasonal product, “Pride of the Wapsi Strawberry Vodka” on June 29, 2012.  MRDC is once again partnering with an Iowa business on this product.  This time Pride of the Wapsi, a berry patch near Long Grove, Iowa.  The new spirit is just in time for Independence Day celebrations.


“The whole idea of the seasonal spirits is to bring some unique products to the market and also partner with other local businesses,” Ryan Burchett, MRDC owner and distiller, says.  “We were really excited when the gang at Pride of the Wapsi said they would have enough strawberries to pull this off.”


MRDC used 1,600 pounds of hand-picked strawberries in this latest creation.  They loaded their still with fresh strawberries and their signature River Pilot Vodka.  After a 12-hour infusion, the strawberries and vodka were redistilled for a one of a kind flavor.


“We’re so excited about the result,” remarks owner and distiller Garrett Burchett.  “Our unique distillation technique gives us the essence, fragrance and flavor of strawberry without the sugary sweetness of a liqueur or other artificially flavored vodkas.  The aroma of this product is amazing.  It smells like fresh strawberry jam.”


For Pride of the Wapsi owners Pat and Lora Dierickx, this was a big project.  “This year we closed the patch down a little sooner than we had hoped, but we were happy to be able to get the 1,600 pounds of strawberries picked for the distillery before that.” Pat says.  “We think this project will bring a whole new awareness to our farm.  We never dreamt that our berries would be used for vodka.  But we’re so pleased to see this collaboration work out.”


The first bottles of the strawberry vodka will be released this Friday, June 29.  The following week, Pride of the Wapsi will be specially featured at MRDC’s First Friday event held Friday, July 6 from 5:30 – 8 p.m. Along with the farmers being on hand, fans who purchase bottles that evening will be able to get a free commemorative pint glass marking the release of the new vodka.


Mississippi River Distilling Company is open from 10 AM to 5 PM Monday through Saturday and from 12 to 5 PM Sundays.  Free tours are offered to the public daily on the hour from 12 to 4 PM or by appointment.  The tour takes visitors through the entire distilling process.  Tours end in the Grand Tasting Room with free samples of products for those patrons over 21 years of age.



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