(From left) Janet Buchanan of the Heartlands Conservancy, Virginia Woulfe-Beile and Christine Favilla, both co-coordinators of the Sierra Club’s Piasa Palisades Group. The Heartlands Conservatory awarded the Green Leaf Achievement Award to the local Sierra Club chapter for its work in a variety of areas, including local food.
In a world of big-box stores and products that travel thousands of miles before reaching consumers, area resident Christine Favilla has labored to make the connection between the local economy and environmental conservation.
Supporting the concept of consuming food grown locally represents a thread in the fabric of her economic viewpoint. On April 29 in Springfield, Ill., the Heartlands Conservatory awarded the Green Leaf Achievement Award to the Sierra Club’s Piasa Palisades Group for its work in a variety of areas, including local food. Favilla, along with Virginia Woulfe-Beile, play a large role in the organization, as both are co-coordinators of the local Sierra Club chapter.
“I think we need to work to make sure people realize how supporting local helps themselves as well as their neighbors,” Favilla said. “When you buy local, your money stays in the community. It’s about changing habits.”
Favilla was a driving force behind the founding of Grassroots Grocery, a nonprofit cooperative grocery store at 415 Ridge St. in Alton that focuses on bringing consumers produce grown within a 50-mile radius. Much of the store’s produce is grown using organic methods.
“The area we opened the store in was designated as a food desert by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture),” Favilla said. “(The local community) didn’t have many places to buy healthy food. I’ve had mothers tell me they’re happy they don’t have to buy at a liquor store anymore.”
The store, tiny by retail standards at 800 square feet, has seven paid employees. Its size gives it the opportunity to pay attention to customer wants and needs.
“We pay attention to each item,” she said. “We really want to make sure we’re carrying things that the customer wants.”
Grassroots is planning on opening a kitchen to serve prepared food. Before the grocery store, Favilla was a catalyst in the opening of seven community gardens that still are operating in Alton, Godfrey, Bethalto and Glen Carbon. Some of the produce grown in the gardens is sold at Grassroots Grocery. In addition, she serves on the board of directors of the Stewardship Alliance, an organization that addresses matters related to local food.
Aside from the work in local food, the Piasa Palisades Group earned the Green Leaf Award for its advocacy of renewable energy, for evaluating the environmental impacts of the projects of local developers and its commitment to Mississippi River cleanup. In an effort to go against the grain of big-box stores, Favilla organized the Green Gift Bazaar, a collection of small business owners who offer their wares at the local YWCA two days after Thanksgiving, one of the biggest shopping days of the year. To be a vendor at the bazaar, one must meet certain environmental standards. Much of the merchandise is handmade and some is recycled.
Favilla earned a bachelor of arts in sociology at St. Luke’s College in Durango, Colo., in 1998 and worked various jobs in the service industry before going to work for the local chapter of the Sierra Club 15 years ago.