CHAMPAIGN – For folks who live in central Illinois, a weeklong "agricultural experience" in the Prairie State may not have quite the allure of leisurely days on tropical beaches or the quiet beauty of the mountains.
But it apparently does to some Europeans and South Americans who have streamed to Illinois to enjoy cornfields, casinos and river cruises.
Known as the Quincy Jones of Cuba, Juan de Marcos Gonzalez – who founded the Buena Vista Social Club with American guitarist Ry Cooder – hopes Americans will be able to legally travel to his homeland someday to check out its vibrant music scene.
He admits he's chauvinistic in claiming that it's the best and most important one in the tropics, or Caribbean.
"There's a new wave of writers mixed with poets, street rappers and jazz players," he said, "and they make a kind of combination of everything based on Cuban music.
"And it sounds very good."
Gonzalez will bring his own Grammy-nominated and Grammy-winning Cuban music to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday evening with his latest incarnation of the Afro-Cuban All Stars.
CHAMPAIGN – A neighborhood group is blasting as "outrageous" a state-approved cleanup plan for the Fifth and Hill street site, saying AmerenIP should be required to remove contaminated groundwater from the site.
TOLONO – Stockholders of two major grain companies in Champaign County have agreed to a merger.
Grand Prairie Co-Op, based in Tolono, and Fisher Farmers Grain and Coal Co., based in Dewey, are scheduled to consolidate Aug. 1 under the new name Premier Cooperative Inc.
CHAMPAIGN – The cleanup of a former coal-gasification plant site at Fifth and Hill streets should begin early next month and is expected to take about a year to complete.
But a neighborhood group that represents residents who live near the north Champaign site said it doesn't think the cleanup plan goes far enough to deal with contaminated groundwater and vapors leaving the site.
CHAMPAIGN – Area horse enthusiasts can learn about equine activities and horse care at the Champaign Equine Adventure, set for 9 a.m. Saturday at the Tony Noel Agriculture Center at Parkland College, 2400 W. Bradley Ave., C.
Kirk Builta of the Champaign County Farm Bureau said the event will include speakers on horse nutrition and health care.
CHAMPAIGN – Local officials were encouraged Thursday by news that the Department of Energy may revive the FutureGen project in Mattoon.
If built, FutureGen would be the world's first clean-coal power plant. The $1.8 billion experimental plant would store its carbon dioxide emissions 7,500 feet below the surface.
PAXTON – A Paxton man has been named a 2009 Master Farmer by Prairie Farmer magazine.
Rick Nelson of Paxton is one of five Illinois farmers selected as master farmers, said Josh Flint, an editor at the magazine.
NORMAL – The Heartland Theatre Company has expanded its original one-act play competition to welcome entries from beyond Illinois to seven Midwest states.
Now called New Plays from the Heartland, the third annual competition provides Midwestern playwrights a chance to share their original plays with central Illinois residents. The contest includes a residency by a nationally known playwright and staged readings of the three winning plays on May 15 and 16. The three winning playwrights also will receive a $150 honorarium.
URBANA – In the year of its 100th anniversary, Carle Park's towering forest of 274 trees is getting some much-needed attention.
After a careful inventory and assessment of Carle Park's trees, Urbana Park District officials determined this year that 24 of the trees are either dead or diseased and will need to come down. Another 56 trees need to be pruned to ensure their continued health.