TAP seeks partner for USDA composting and food waste reduction pilot program grant

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (OUAIP) recently released a funding opportunity announcement for their Composting and Food Waste Reduction (CFWR) cooperative agreements. Applications are due by September 1, 2022.

This program provides financial assistance to municipalities, school districts, counties, local governments, or tribal governments (State-designated Indian Tribes, Federally Recognized Indian Tribal Governments) for composting and food waste reduction pilot programs. While applicants are encouraged to submit proposals that meet more than one of the objectives below (inclusion of multiple objectives will be considered when ranking proposals), OUAIP will accept proposals that address at least one of the following:

  • Generate compost
  • Increase access to compost for agricultural producers
  • Reduce reliance on, and limit the use of, fertilizer
  • Improve soil quality
  • Encourage waste management and permaculture business development
  • Increase rainwater absorption
  • Reduce municipal food waste; and
  • Divert residential and commercial food waste from landfills.

In addition to meeting one or more of the above purposes applicants are encouraged to align their project proposals to address priorities on environmental justice, racial equity, climate, investment in disadvantaged communities, and climate smart agricultural practices. Priority will be given for each of the following elements that are included in a project:

  • Anticipate or demonstrate economic benefits for the targeted community;
  • Incorporate plans to make compost easily accessible to agricultural producers, including community gardeners, school gardens, and producers;
  • Integrate food waste reduction strategies, including innovative food recovery efforts such as, but not limited to, food gleaning, storage, and preservation techniques; and
  • Include a robust plan that describes collaboration with multiple partners.

Eligible entities should collaborate with two or more partner organizations on their CFWR pilot project. Non-eligible entities may be partners on a project.

ISTC seeks an eligible organization to be the lead applicant on a collaborative proposal. ISTC’s TAP staff will provide support on the cooperative agreement through zero waste technical assistance, education, and outreach. Contact TAP to learn more about this partnership opportunity.

Illinois Farm to Food Bank Feasibility Study report now available online

Cover page of Farm to Food Bank report

As reported in previous posts, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center Technical Assistance Program (TAP) has been collaborating with Feeding Illinois, the Illinois Farm Bureau, the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, and other stakeholders to explore ways to reduce food waste from farms while also recovering nutritious fresh foods to increase the state’s food supply and help citizens facing food insecurity.

Recently, project partners released the initial feasibility study report from the first year of this project, entitled “Exploring the Development of an Illinois Farm to Food Bank Program.” The report is available in IDEALS, the Illinois Digital Environment for Access to Learning and Scholarship, at http://hdl.handle.net/2142/114171.

Through interviews, surveys, focus groups, and pilot projects it became clear that a Farm to Food Bank program would be welcomed by both the farming and food banking communities in Illinois. Such programs are defined in the Code of Federal Regulations [at 7 CFR 251.10(j)] as “the harvesting, processing, packaging, or transportation of unharvested, unprocessed, or unpackaged commodities donated by agricultural producers, processors, or distributors for use by Emergency Feeding Organizations (EFOs)” – i.e., hunger relief agencies. Several such programs exist throughout the United States, though not in every state (for examples, see the “Lessons from Other Farm to Food Bank Programs” section of this report). While commonly referred to as Farm to Food Bank, these programs can also operate as Farm to Food Pantry programs.

While this is an ongoing research project, this report serves to demonstrate 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.

Recommendations for 2022 and beyond include the following:

Three essential aspects of a farm to food bank program1. A Farm to Food Bank program should have three primary goals:
➢ Support farmers by providing a secondary market for off-grade and  surplus products.
➢ Increase access to local, nutritious foods.
➢ Reduce food waste/surplus on farms and associated energy and resources.

2. Equity must be an essential part of the program.
3. Seek out partnerships with existing aggregation and processing centers.
4. Seek out partnerships with new food pantries.
5. Make Feeding Illinois and their member food banks a staple at ag-focused and food access events.
6. Increase communication between food banks.
7. Ensure buy-in from food banks and food pantries.
8. Improve capacity and resources at the food pantries.
9. Connect a Farm to Food Bank program with existing
technology platforms.
10. Diversify funding sources. Develop an advocacy plan to pursue public and private support.
11. Establish an advisory board to guide the actions of the Farm to Food Bank program.
12. Develop guidance and educational programs for farmers.
13. Measure success by more than just pounds of donated food.
14. Hire a dedicated employee to manage the Farm to Food Bank program.
15. Adapt the program as needed.
16. Continue piloting Farm to Food Bank strategies around the state.

While these recommendations can serve to guide Farm to Food Bank efforts, further research is needed to uncover opportunities and test collection and distribution strategies. ISTC and Feeding Illinois will collaborate to continue this research for the remainder of 2022 into 2023. The project team will continue outreach and engagement efforts to both increase participation and gather feedback on the program. They will also continue to work with Rendleman Orchards, which participated in the first pilot project of the study, as well as conducting additional pilot projects. In the coming year, ISTC and Feeding Illinois will also work with farmers markets around the state to test aggregation strategies.

Read more about this project on the “Project Descriptions” section of the TAP website.

 

 

Free sustainability assessments for Illinois manufacturers: video available

Screenshot from TAP assessment opportunity webinar
This webinar recording is available on YouTube.

Members of the ISTC Technical Assistance Program team recently presented a webinar in association with Sustain Rockford to describe an opportunity for Illinois manufacturers, their direct suppliers, and supporting industries to obtain free sustainability assessments. The webinar recording is now available on ISTC’s YouTube channel.

TAP has received federal grant funding to provide these assessments for the following sectors:

Assessments can help facilities reduce business costs, energy and water consumption, wastewater generation, emissions, and hazardous material usage, which can result in increased profitability, productivity, and competitiveness as well as recycling or diversion of by-products.

The recorded presentation describes: how interested facilities can sign up for the opportunity; the process of preparing for an assessment; what to expect from the report on findings provided by TAP (including some example elements and common opportunities identified); and how TAP can assist with implementation of recommendations, if desired.

View a flyer describing the assessment opportunity. For additional information, please email Irene Zlevor or call 217-300-8617.

 

 

Illinois EPA announces notice of funding opportunity for county solid waste planning

Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA) Director John J. Kim recently announced a new funding to assist counties and other units of local government in implementing their solid waste planning obligations under the Illinois Solid Waste Planning and Recycling Act (SWPRA). This funding opportunity follows a recommendation from the Statewide Materials Management Advisory committee that recommended, in its July 2021 report, that the Illinois EPA provide financial support to units of local government to enable them to make meaningful updates to their statutorily required solid waste management plans. A Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) has been posted to the Illinois EPA website.

Under the Solid Waste Planning and Recycling Act, counties and units of local government are obligated to revisit their Illinois Solid Waste Management Plans every five years and, if necessary, submit plans with significant updates to the Illinois EPA, said Director Kim. These grants provide an important resource to county and local governments as they update these plans for managing solid waste disposal and recycling.”

The Illinois EPA Waste Reduction and Compliance Section is responsible for reviewing county solid waste management plans submitted pursuant to the SWPRA. Through this funding opportunity, Illinois EPA intends to provide interested counties, and other units of local government required to develop a county solid waste management plan, financial assistance to help prepare the next plan update.

Eligible projects include, but are not limited to:

  • Conducting a local solid waste and materials management needs assessment;
  • Surveying local solid waste and materials management stakeholders to determine programmatic expansion viability;
  • Internally authoring solid waste management plan updates; or
  • Procuring consulting services to prepare solid waste management plan updates.

The Illinois EPA Waste Reduction and Compliance Section (WRCS) is responsible for reviewing County Solid Waste Management Plans submitted pursuant to the SWPRA.

Each county or unit of local government required to develop a solid waste management plan is eligible for $5,000.00 of funding. Applications must be submitted electronically to epa.recycling@illinois.gov and are due by 5:00 PM (CST) on May 31, 2022. Applicants may not apply for a grant until they are prequalified through the Grant Accountability and Transparency Act (GATA) Grantee portal.

May 1-7, 2022 is International Compost Awareness Week

2022 International Compost Awareness Week poster

Did you know that the first full week of May is celebrated annually in the US and other countries as International Compost Awareness Week (ICAW)? Composting is a way of recycling organic materials (e.g. grass clippings and other yard waste, as well as food scraps) to create a nutrient-rich soil amendment. Things that have grown break down and support the health of soil and thus new growth–that’s the idea behind the theme of this year’s ICAW: Recipe for Regeneration: Compost.

May 1-7, 2022 has also been declared Compost Awareness Week in Illinois, thanks to the recent adoption of SR0706 by the 102nd Illinois General Assembly. See https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/BillStatus.asp?DocTypeID=SR&DocNum=706&GAID=16&SessionID=110&LegID=137663 for the full text of the resolution and related information.

The Illinois Food Scrap Coalition (IFSC), a not-for-profit organization that advances diversion and composting of organics in Illinois through advocacy, program implementation, market and business development, policy, and outreach, has lined up a variety of events to celebrate ICAW. The following are highlights of IFSC’s ICAW events, beginning Sunday, May 1 at 9 AM:

Sunday, May 1, 9 – 11 AM, The Mike Nowak Radio ShowLearn how composting and using finished compost regenerate Illinois soil to grow nutritious food with friends from the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County and the Vernon Hills Park District’s Community Garden.

Sundays, May 1 and 8, 1 – 4 PM, Wednesday, May 4, 5 – 7 PM, Collective Resource Compost Gift-BackPay just $5 per 5 gallons of finished compost at The Talking Farm in Skokie. Separate registration requested.

Monday, May 2, 12 PM, IFSC’s kick-off program (virual event) – “What’s cookin’ with IFSC, the US Composting Council (USCC) and ICAW.” Details here.

Monday, May 2, 12:30 – 1:30 PM, Vermont Organics Recycling SummitJoin IFSC at the Vermont Organics Recycling Summit and listen to Keynote Speaker Finian Makepeace of the Kiss the Ground Project. Separate registration required.

Tuesday, May 3, 7 PM, Illinois Farmer Expert Panel (virtual event) – Hear farmers describe their farm, crops, operations, and compost use. Details here.

Thursday, May 5, 7 PM, On-Farm Tours (virtual event) – Learn the benefits of regenerative agriculture and composting via prerecorded farm tours. Details here.

To learn more about the benefits of composting, see https://illinoiscomposts.org/why-compost/. To learn how to start composting, see https://illinoiscomposts.org/start-composting/.

Debra Jacobson recognized by Industrial Water, Waste & Sewage Group (IWWSG)

Debra JacobsonThe Industrial Water, Waste & Sewage Group (IWWSG) has named Debra Jacobson the 2022 recipient of the E. Ted Erickson Distinguished Environmental Professional Award.

Ms. Jacobson joins a notable list of 24 past recipients, which is named in honor of founder E. Ted Erickson.  The group established the award in 2000 to recognize an individual who has made a significant contribution(s) in the environmental area, especially at the local and regional levels.

The award is granted based on recognition of the recipient’s community service advancing IWWSG’s goals, leadership / service to environmental professional organizations, including the IWWSG, and contributions to the field of environmental laws / compliance / management / education.

Ms. Jacobson is Associate Director at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), a unit of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois. She oversees the Technical Assistance Program, the Illinois Coastal Management Program team, and the Institutional Water Treatment unit. She also works as an environmental engineer overseeing technical, environmental and safety compliance assistance to organizations, including industrial facilities, within and outside Illinois. Ms. Jacobson collaborates with federal, state and local government agencies and industry trade groups on environmental matters including energy efficiency, zero waste and emerging environmental impacts, such as end of life renewable energy equipment.

Underwater innovation at Illinois Beach State Park to help mitigate coastal erosion

Aerial view of fully installed submerged rubble ridges
Aerial view of fully installed submerged rubble ridges

Each year, winter wreaks havoc on Lake Michigan communities as waves and ice pummel the coast. In recent years, winter storms combined with record high lake levels have been especially damaging. Illinois Beach State Park (IBSP), which is home to the largest stretch of natural shoreline in Illinois, has been especially hard hit, losing valuable roads, dune ecosystems, and beaches.

US Army Corps of Engineers placing stone offshore of Hosah Park in Zion, IL
US Army Corps of Engineers placing stone offshore of Hosah Park in Zion, IL

This past summer, with funding from the EPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a US Army Corps of Engineers crane carefully placed over 10,000 tons of stone five hundred feet offshore of IBSP and Hosah Park, a Zion Park District property wedged between the north and south units of IBSP.  Hidden from view underneath the shallow coastal waters of Lake Michigan, these stones form three “rubble ridges” approximately seven hundred and fifty feet long. They are intended to work in concert to lessen storm waves and protect the eroding beach and unique terrestrial ecosystem in the dunes while preserving views and enhancing fish habitat.

Since 2014, record lake levels have accelerated erosion across the Great Lakes, necessitating the development of new, lower impact, and less expensive measures that can protect shorelines. In the last six years, Illinois Beach State Park has experienced record high erosion along its shore. The park, home to unique prairie and wetland habitat and a beloved local and regional recreation draw, is threatened by high waters and storm overwash that erode and fill in the narrow dune swales– called pannes– home to rare and endemic plants and animals. A group of scientists led by Steve Brown and Robin Mattheus of the Illinois State Geological Survey, and Ethan Theuerkauf of Michigan State University, have worked to document and understand these changes.

To build on this work, the IDNR Coastal Management Program enlisted help from Healthy Port Futures, a design-research group funded by Great Lakes Protection Fund, to investigate innovative coastal resilience projects in the Great Lakes. The team collaborated with the Shoreline Management Working Group and other local stakeholders, including IDNR Fisheries and Illinois Natural History Survey scientists, who provided guidance to ensure the rubble ridges provide good fish habitat by creating small, protected pore spaces within the structures. Consulting firm Anchor QEA provided engineering expertise throughout the process, including the development of a wave model to calibrate the rubble ridge concept to local environmental conditions.

Fish swimming among the submerged rubble ridges
Early monitoring data has shown fish already utilizing the rubble ridges for habitat

Researchers from Illinois State Geological Survey, Michigan State, and Illinois Natural History Survey will monitor how efficiently the rubble ridges slow waves, their effect on the adjacent beach and nearshore environment, as well as their ability to support fish habitat over time. If successful, the approach will help protect Illinois beaches and may provide a low-cost alternative for other Great Lakes communities looking to protect their coastal landscapes and enjoy the fishing, birding, and beauty these important landscapes offer. This project represents an important step towards the future of Great Lakes coastal resiliency and is a testament to the importance of interagency collaboration, a reliance on good science, and an investment in developing innovative approaches that preserve the most basic and important qualities and experiences of places Illinoisans love.

Rendering of project plan describing protected beach, dissapated wave zone, submerged rubble ridge, and prevailing wave direction
Rendering of project plan

 

 

Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program launches “Made in Illinois” incentive

Made in Illinois logo

The Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program provides energy efficiency guidance and solutions for single-family residences, multifamily property owners and renters, and businesses within the Ameren Illinois utility service territory. For business customers, the Efficiency Program provides free energy consultations and can assist with finding incentives on energy-efficient equipment; provides an online store with discounts on items like smart thermostats, smart LEDs, advanced power strips, and more; assists with finding energy advisors, free resources, and contractors for energy efficiency projects; and can help companies explore industry-specific energy-saving technologies and solutions.

The Efficiency Program recently announced a “Made in Illinois” incentive for its business customers completing energy efficiency projects. Business customers that purchase and install Illinois-manufactured products at their facilities as part of their energy efficiency projects can earn a cash bonus, added to pre-approved Efficiency Program cash incentives. The bonus consists of an additional 5% added to the Early Completion Bonus for projects completed January 1, 2022 through September 30, 2022.  If your project qualifies, your facility could receive up to 20% more incentive dollars through March 31, 2022. The tiered bonus structure is as follows:

Table, which shows different incentives by project completion date. Projects completed by March 31, 2022 can get an early completion bonus of 15% or a Made in Illinois bonus of 20%. Projects completed by June 30, 2022 can get an early completion bonus of 10% or a Made in Illinois bonuse of 15%. Projects completed by September 30, 2022 can get an early completion bonus of 5% or a Made in Illinois bonuse of 10%.

Eligibility: Equipment must be at least 50% manufactured and/or assembled in Illinois (exclusive of packaging and installation); product installation is not considered “assembly.” The project must be completed between Jan. 1, 2022 and Sept. 30, 2022. Qualifying projects will receive either the Early Completion Bonus OR the Made in Illinois Bonus–not both.

How to Apply: A section will soon be added to all energy efficiency project applications through the Efficiency Program for the Made in Illinois Bonus and will include the following:

  • A checkbox to indicate if the equipment listed on the application meets the criteria
  • A line to enter equipment manufacturer and model
  • Instructions to submit documentation of eligible equipment with the application
    • Documentation of eligibility must be either a listing of the equipment on the BuildingClean.org website showing that it was made in Illinois, or an affidavit from the manufacturer attesting that the equipment meets the criteria.

Visit the Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program website for the most up to date information on this and other incentives.

For businesses outside the Ameren Illinois Service Territory, other utility energy efficiency assistance programs and incentives include:

Note: ISTC does not endorse, either explicitly or implicitly, any particular manufacturer, vendor, product, or service. The above information is provided for reference only.

TAP project helps Rendleman Orchard get surplus fruit to food banks

Boxes are loaded onto a truck for delivery to the food bank (photo credit: Zach Samaras)
Rendleman Orchards worker loads boxes onto a truck for delivery to a food bank (photo credit: Zach Samaras)

ISTC and 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. The project team helped Rendleman Orchards avoid waste, recoup their costs, and provide fresh local nutritious fruit to Illinois neighbors in need.

Rendleman Orchards started by providing 48 cases of peaches to Tri-State Food Bank’s Vienna, IL hub. After initial success, St. Louis Area foodbank and Northern Illinois Food Bank began receiving cases of peaches and nectarines as well. As demand grew from the food banks, Rendleman Orchards aggregated peaches and nectarines from neighboring Flamm Orchards.

Each week Rendleman Orchards reached out to a specific contact at each food bank with quantities available. Interested food banks placed orders with Rendleman Orchards by the end of the week and either pick-up or receive a delivery the following Tuesday. Tri-State Food Bank and Northern Illinois Food Bank orders were delivered, while St. Louis Area foodbank picked up directly from the farm. All invoices were sent to Feeding Illinois and were paid upon confirmation of receipt from the food banks.

By the end of the 2021 growing season, Feeding Illinois reimbursed Rendleman Orchards $272,182 to cover the PPO costs for the donation of 567,085 pounds of Illinois-grown fresh fruits: 7,458 cases (372,900 lbs) of peaches; 539 cases (26,950 lbs) of nectarines; and a combined 167,235 pounds of bagged and bulk apples. An additional $10,420 was paid for associated deliveries to the four recipient food banks.

Read the full case study.