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When Bill Connors, head chef at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC), met renowned Chicago chef and PBS cooking show host Rick Bayless at a conference, he was inspired by Bayless's use of fresh, locally-produced food in his restaurants. Connors, or Chef Bill, as he is called, returned to Carbondale with a commitment to use locally-raised meat and produce at SIUC's dining halls. He contacted Thomas Rosenthal, a swine specialist at University Farms, to make arrangements to purchase high-quality, locally-raised hogs, which saves the University the expense of taking the animals to market. Chef Bill also has partnered with the Neighborhood Food Co-op and Grocery in Carbondale to purchase local produce. Jerry Thurston is one of the farmers that supplies Connors with produce through the Co-op. InFocus traveled to Thurston's farm to learn how this traditional row crop farmer is finding new markets by growing a wide variety of local crops and hiring local workers.
With the support of the Julie Payne Kirchmeier, Director of University Housing, Connors has unlocked the University's purchasing power and helped to spur the local food movement in southern Illinois. Not only does the University get fresher food that keeps longer and costs no more than food trucked from across the country, it's also reducing its carbon footprint and helping to support the local economy by creating food production jobs.
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