By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Pittsfield farmer Jeremy Thomas already spends plenty of time in the grocery store, doing about half of his family's shopping.
He'll be back in the Pittsfield County Market on Tuesday helping others make good choices from the shelves.
The Pike County Farm Bureau promotion marks Food Check-Out Week, Feb. 17-23, and its message to help Americans put together nutritious meals while spending less.
"It's bringing awareness on helping them learn about how to stretch their grocery dollars and make healthy, nutritious food choices without having to spend a lot of money," Thomas said. "We're trying to promote fresh produce like fruits and vegetables, and let people know you don't have to buy processed food all the time. Honestly, you can get it a lot cheaper if you buy it unprepared and make it yourself, and it's healthier that way."
Area Farm Bureau groups plan promotions this week designed to help keep food safe, help the hungry and help shoppers make better choices.
"We always give out information on eating healthy and what to buy," Brown County Farm Bureau Manager Glenna Dormire said.
Dormire and Cathy Knight will be sacking groceries at the Mount Sterling IGA on Wednesday to spread the word about the week.
"We have a blast," Dormire said.
Having farmers and farm groups help spread the word about healthy eating only makes sense during the week which serves as a bridge to National Nutrition Month in March.
"American farmers are committed to try to produce safer and healthier food, not only safe food, but quantities where it's produced cheaply," said Thomas, who farms with his dad and brother raising corn, soybeans, alfalfa, wheat, cattle and hogs.
Concern about the cost of a healthy diet being out of reach remains on the minds of many Americans as the nation continues to work through serious economic woes. According to an Agriculture Department study, the cost of eating healthy hasn't changed as much as some less-healthy alternatives, but eating healthy food while on a budget does require strategic shopping.
What started out as Food Check-Out Day in 1998 became Food Check-Out Week in 2006 to highlight America's safe, abundant and affordable food supply, made possible largely by the nation's productive farmers and ranchers, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. American families and individuals spend, on average, less than 10 percent of their disposable personal income for food.
The logo on insulated grocery bags to be given away during the week stresses Illinois farm families grow safe and healthy food for their family and yours.
That message "goes right along with what we're going to hand out," Dormire said. "The bags will keep your food safe if you get something that needs to stay cold."
Emphasizing the farm connection to food at the grocery store is important.
Dormire tells a story about doing a classroom experiment using a chicken bone and having a teacher, who must have been used to chicken nuggets, ask where she got the bone.
"We always thought living in a rural community that everybody knows a lot of this, but we're constantly doing education for the public," Dormire said. "This is our way to trying to better educate them and have fun too."
Food Check-Out Week Special promotions planned by area Farm Bureaus this week are:
• Glenna Dormire and Cathy Knight with the Brown County Farm Bureau will sack groceries 10 a.m.-noon Wednesday at the IGA in Mount Sterling. They will hand out insulated grocery sacks and educational material about healthy, economical food choices.
• The Hancock County Farm Bureau Women's Committee teams up with the Illinois Corn Growers Association for the "Cart Full of Crops" promotion at local grocery stores. Participating stores are County Market in Carthage, R&D Food in LaHarpe, Ducks in Nauvoo and Rhodes Market in Augusta. Guess the value of the groceries in the cart for a chance to win a $50 gift card to the respective grocery store. The groceries will be donated to local food pantries. The grocery carts will be in place through Feb. 22.
• Pike County Farm Bureau will give away insulated grocery bags at County Market in Pittsfield during the lunch hour on Tuesday.
Healthy eating and smart shopping handouts also will be available in the counties.
Tips from the American Farm Bureau Federation for better nutrition on a tight budget include:
• Prepare a shopping list. Know what you have on hand, especially perishable foods, and plan for leftovers.
• Don't shop when hungry.
• Select fresh fruits and vegetables in season; buy frozen or canned when they're not in season.
• Balance the cost of foods with the preparation time required. If you won't wash, peel and chop produce, buy it already prepared.
• Compare the savings of shopping at one store with some sales to the fuel and time cost involved in shopping at several stores to get better prices on every item.