Locally grown has become a buzzword in Agriculture as more farmers look for ways to market their products directly to local consumers, and consumers are looking for those locally produced items. While we often think of locally grown items as coming from smaller fruit and vegetable operations, that is not always the case. The Ropp family in McLean County has been in the diary business for six generations, milking Jersey cows. About a decade ago, Ken Ropp, on a whim, decided to try his hand at cheese making. Using his own milk, he produced small batches of cheese and sold it directly from the farm a couple of days a week. Demand quickly grew so they moved to farmers markets, and later to retail grocery stores. Today, Ropp Jersey Cheese is produced seven days a week and sold in over 200 outlets in a 200 mile radius of McLean county. Ropp says the cheese business adds value to their milk, and eliminated the ups and downs of the market for raw milk.
Ropp says the consumer is looking for locally grown products, as evidenced by the growth of farmers markets around the state.
As Ropp works with retailers who sell his cheese, he discovers a strong demand from grocery chains for more locally produced items, whether it is fruits and vegetables, value added items like cheese and meat or nearly anything edible that can produced in Illinois. Grocers are also feeling the demand for locally produced food and are finding demand often outstrips available supplies.