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Finding a better way to your plate

Crate Free Illinois’ mobile app helps consumers connect with local farmers

Batavia resident David Ouellette not only wants to raise awareness about the treatment of factory farm animals – but he’s also doing something about it.

Ouellette began volunteering for the nonprofit Crate Free Illinois, which is working to create awareness about the differences between traditional farmers and CAFOs – or concentrated animal feeding operations – where animals are confined in extreme conditions and environments become polluted. 

Crate Free Illinois aims to help people buy directly from local farmers via its new mobile app, which includes a variety of options for Kane County residents.

“They [Crate Free Illinois] approach the problem of today’s factory farm industry and CAFO facilities with optimism and a pragmatic attitude. They didn’t want to broadcast the issues just for the sake of awareness; they also wanted to come up with solutions that could be implemented right now,”  Ouellette said. 

Some of the local farms in Kane County on the Crate Free Illinois app include Seven Sons Farms in Geneva and Sugar Grove; Heritage Prairie Farm and Rustic Road Farm in Elburn; and Spring Bluff Farm and Grandma’s Farm Fresh Eggs in Sugar Grove. 

“We are not competing with factory farms or cheap imports,” Rustic Road Farm owner Marc Bernard said via a news release. “We market to a different customer. Our guest is not interested in cheap meat. They are looking for a good tasting product, raised right. They want to be able to see how their food is raised and trust in the farmer and food. We charge what we need to be profitable, and our guests respect us for it. The model for this type of eating is to eat less meat but better quality and increase the plant portion of our diet. This is completely the opposite of the current American diet – lots of cheap, low-quality protein, very little green vegetable.”

Ouellette said education is key when finding out where your food comes from.

“Don’t fall for marketing gimmicks. Know what the words on the packaging mean. Do your own research. Visit the farms,” he said. “If you aren’t allowed to see where your food comes from, there is a pretty clear hint that you shouldn’t be supporting that company. Eat less meat, more fruits and veggies. Support your local farmers.”

But Ouellette knows it’s a tough road going forward.

“... The effort expended to keep the abhorrent conditions on factory farms a secret due to ‘ag-gag’ laws and other types of lobbying and legislation never ceases to surprise and enrage me,” he said. “But it is exciting to see attitudes change, and to see people’s faces when they realize the mistreatment and decide to make more conscious decisions as consumers.”

The Crate Free Illinois mobile app is the first of its kind to help Illinois consumers find local options to buy meat, poultry, dairy and eggs from farmers who do not subject their animals to inhumane, extreme confinement methods, according to the release. Consumers can type in their ZIP code and locate nearby farmers, farmers markets, and community supported agriculture shares – or CSAs – as well as learn how to volunteer and support the organization’s efforts. 

“Many consumers are completely unaware of how their bacon or scrambled egg got to their plate,” Crate Free Illinois founder Jessica Chipkin said in the release. “Once consumers are made aware of these practices, we believe they will demand more humane alternatives.”

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