WIU's Purple and Gold Popcorn Wins State Agri-Tourism Award
August 27, 2013
MACOMB, IL - The Western Illinois University Organic Research Program recently received a 2013 Salute to Illinois Agriculture Agri-Tourism Leaders of the Year Award for its innovative direct marketing of purple and gold popcorn.
WIU was nominated for the award by Elisha Szyjka, of the Great Rivers Country Regional Tourism Development office in Macomb. State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka presented the award at an Aug. 13 ceremony at the Illinois State Fair.
The award caps a six-year adventure in production, marketing and school spirit, according to Joel Gruver, assistant professor of soil science and sustainable agriculture in Western's School of Agriculture.
Soon after arriving at WIU in January 2007, Gruver and his research technician, Andy Clayton, began discussing opportunities for value-added marketing to increase public awareness of the WIU Organic Research Program. Gruver proposed popcorn and Clayton added the school spirit component when he inquired, "What about purple and gold popcorn?"
Gruver tracked down a source of colorful popcorn varieties, and soon one acre of purple and gold popcorn was planted at the WIU/Allison Organic Farm. The project wasn't without its challenges in the beginning, including poor germination of the purple variety, lots of weeds and voracious pests. But by late fall, 300 pounds of popcorn was hand-picked and shelled, packed in half-pound plastic bags with colorful labels and ready for holiday season sales.
Another key development in the history of purple and gold popcorn at Western was a proposal in spring 2009 by WIU business student Jason Quaglia. The project proceeded with Quaglia's involvement and a package was designed, a packer was identified in northwest Iowa and 200 pounds of popcorn was transformed into 1,200 microwaveable bags of "Rocky Popcorn."
Rocky Popcorn is currently available in half-pound plastic bags and microwaveable bags for $2 per bag at the School of Agriculture office in Knoblauch Hall, room 145, on the WIU-Macomb campus. The popcorn is also available for $2 per pound for any order five pounds or greater. The WIU School of Ag office is open 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.
For more information, contact the School of Agriculture at (309) 298-1080. Learn more about WIU's Allison Organic Research and Demonstration Farm at www.wiu.edu/ag/organicfarm/.