February 4, 2004 - The Prairie Advocate: Ecuador RPCV Marc Strobbe is Executive Director of Northwest Illinois Ag Opportunity Coalition

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ecuador: Peace Corps Ecuador : The Peace Corps in Ecuador: February 4, 2004 - The Prairie Advocate: Ecuador RPCV Marc Strobbe is Executive Director of Northwest Illinois Ag Opportunity Coalition

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Ecuador RPCV Marc Strobbe is Executive Director of Northwest Illinois Ag Opportunity Coalition

Ecuador RPCV Marc Strobbe is Executive Director of Northwest Illinois Ag Opportunity Coalition

CEDS backs new ag coalition - Farmers look for new money-making ideas
By DIANE KOMISKEY - Prairie Advocate Reporter

MOUNT CARROLL—A Carroll County economic development group is giving more than lip service to agriculture's role in the economy of northwest Illinois.

The Carroll County Economic Development Strategy committee, CEDS, has become a supporting member of the nascent Northwest Illinois Ag Opportunity Coalition. CEDS on Jan. 28 agreed to give the coalition $500.

"That's very encouraging," said Marc Strobbe, coalition executive director, on learning of the group's decision. "That was a formative concern of ours, to make sure that the whole area was interested and knew that we were trying to serve them."

"Pursuing economic development projects of any kind is the goal of CEDS," said Carroll County CEDS chairman Tom Kocal. "Being an ag-based county, we see the economic benefits of being part of a coalition that wants to create more jobs by developing new ideas in agriculture."

The coalition is based in the office of the Rock Falls Community Development Corporation, and many of its sponsors are based in Whiteside County. The coalition, however, targets the eight northwest counties of Illinois and is open to anyone who shares the founding members' vision.

The coalition's aim is to create jobs and improve the well being of rural communities, Strobbe explained.

"That is what I believe in, and it is the reason I was impressed with the group," Strobbe said. He became the coalition's executive director Jan. 20.
How coalition formed

Mary Holmes, manager of the Illinois Value Added Rural Development Center held visioning sessions in June and July 2003 with 75 interested farmers, agri-business leaders and economic development specialists. They were from Bureau, Boone, Carroll, Henry, Jo Daviess, Knox, Lee, McLean, Ogle, Rock Island, Whiteside and Winnebago counties, Holmes said. She and Chad Martin, IVARD Center technical assistant, facilitated the workshops.

The center is an outreach and research agency of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University. Its mission is to help rural communities include value adding agricultural processing into their economic bases, Holmes said.
Goals set

The purpose of the sessions was to envision the future of agriculture in the area and design an action plan for achieving the vision. The group set five goals, to:

-establish marketing alliances, forming relationships with export markets, identity preserving their crops using on-farm storage, and consolidating their farm products for volume shipment to designated markets, as well as, pursuing collaborative marketing opportunities for their livestock.

-initiate a collective bargaining unit for independent ag producers [farmers] to take advantage of regional resources available; the focus was on irrigated crop production, conventionally raised crops and livestock.

-construct a retail outlet for locally grown crop and livestock products.

-promote agri-tourism.

-create livestock waste processing.

The Northwest Illinois Ag Opportunity Coalition is taking the lead in creating opportunity for the livestock industry, Holmes said. Illinois is a leading producer of hogs, corn and soybeans.
Taking baby steps

The five goals or projects have not been prioritized, Strobbe said. The coalition is in its infancy. An interim board has led its efforts and a permanent board is being established.

Bruce Johnson, chairman of the coalition's agri-tourism team, said the outlet project would include elements of agri-tourism and education, A former Carroll County Farm Bureau manager, Johnson now manages the Stephenson County Farm Bureau.

"The agri-tourism and retail group have been very active from the get-go and are working together," Strobbe said. "It is a very well-organized and interested group. "
Tourism workshop today

The agri-tourism team is sponsoring an agri-tourism opportunities workshop in Mt. Carroll today. Speakers include representatives of the Agriculture & Tourism Partners of Illinois, and Northern Illinois Tourism Development. The University of Illinois, and state departments of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Natural Resources and Treasurer's Office plan to make presentations, as do representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Development, local junior colleges, insurers and agri-tourism business people.

"I see ag as a very unique enterprise wherever it is, Ecuador or Northwest Illinois," said Strobbe, who was raised on an Iowa grain farm and spent 27 months in Ecuador with the Peace Corps. "It has gotten to where it is not just unique, but very difficult for people to deal with, without outside support and new, fresh ideas.
Who's guiding the group

Strobbe is completing a graduate degree in geography from Western Illinois University as part of its Peace Corps Fellows program. It includes an 11-month internship, which he is serving with the coalition.

In the Peace Corps, he was an ag and small biz volunteer. Strobbe taught about organic production methods, nutrition, family gardens and improved livestock management in South America.

Peace Corps fellows work throughout the state in a variety of economic development-related capacities. Groups sponsoring a Peace Corps Fellow must provide $20,000, mileage reimbursements, office space and supplies.

More information is available about the Peace Corps Fellows program, the IVARDC and the Institute of Rural Affairs atwww.iira.org.

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Story Source: The Prairie Advocate

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ecuador; Agriculture



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