Local food advocate finds ingredients in unusual places | recipes

Bloomington, Illinois – Kelly Lay is the one to ask for advice on how to control slugs in a small garden, or for an exotic recipe that includes spruce branch tips, or how to navigate the Illinois Cottage Food Law.

It’s all about local foods. She operates Meadow Lane Farm, a small market garden in LeRoy, Ill.

She worked with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance where she helped change Illinois Cottage Food laws to provide more opportunities for local producers and consumers.

She mentors new farmers including Kian Glenn, a former pastor and urban farmer in central Illinois who started The Table Farm & Workshop.

Lay started her new job as director of local food programs at The Land Connection in May. She’s a local diet advocate and curator based in Champaign, Illinois.

“I have a great passion for her,” she said.

Lay says she’s learned a lot by working, sometimes alone or working with other farmers including Prairie Earth, an organic farm in Atlanta, Illinois.

She sometimes learned things that led her further into her career, for example, early on when she was making jams and jellies for trading and selling.

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“I didn’t realize it was illegal in Illinois to sell the things I made,” she said.

So I learned about the Illinois Cottage Food Law and became an advocate of updating it so that small producers could sell their produce at outlets other than farmers’ markets. These changes helped many products in a world forever changed by the pandemic.

She continues to advocate for the food and the people who produce it. This might mean answering questions about growing things or helping people navigate how to work with the health department.

Lay does not come from a generational farm.

“I grew up moving. My dad was in the Air Force,” she said.

But the family has roots that would call them home in Princeton in northwest Illinois where her grandparents had a truck garden and raised rabbits.

She visits her grandparents during the Bureau County Fair season, where she prepares pies and other entrances for the event that has been the center of community entertainment for more than 160 years.

She said she came from a family where if someone was deficient in food, everyone would gather with food to share.

Lay said her mother’s family recipe book is a treasure. Pictures of weddings, birthdays, holidays and summer gatherings are scattered among the cherished family recipes. It contains a recipe for naturally dying Easter eggs with pictures of children doing it.

“My mom did this,” she said, showing a photo and a much-loved and outdated recipe book.

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