The slow, quiet creep of good change

illinois-farm-fieldI’m proud of Illinois. We haven’t yet won the 2016 Olympics hosting bid (that announcement comes on Friday), and though we are home to the country’s groundbreaking president, our politics have also provided plenty of fodder for the jokes of late-night television hosts this year.

But even if these headlines are what grab the world’s attention, toward the end of August, Illinois took a quieter, but still radical, step in history. It happened when Illinois governor Pat Quinn signed legislation to build a state-wide local farm and food infrastructure. The development of this new, local economy will support the production and purchase of fresh, local food to complement the more global, corporate food production that we currently rely on.

This law, the Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act, establishes a Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Council

“to facilitate the growth of an Illinois-based local farm and food product economy that revitalizes rural and urban communities, promotes healthy eating with access to fresh foods, creates jobs, ensures a readily available supply of safe food in an emergency event, and supports economic growth through making local farm or food products available to all Illinois citizens.”

Of particular benefit to local farmers is the fact that the Act will require state-run agencies and facilities to make locally grown food 20% of their food purchases by 2020. Agencies and facilities that receive a certain amount of state funding will include local food in 10% of their food purchases by the same date. And preference for food purchase contracts will be given to local foods suppliers, as long as their costs are no more than 10% higher than the lowest bidder.

Along with its notorious politics, Illinois is recognized for being an agricultural hub. But currently, only several hundred of the state’s 76,000 farmers produce for the local economy, and almost all of the $48 billion Illinoisans spend annually on food leaves the state. Institutional commitments of the sort laid out in this new law boost the capacity of small, existing local food producers. But that governmental support also builds confidence in larger agricultural operations that produce commodity goods like corn or soybeans only because there are reliable markets and subsidies for these goods. With enough support and stability in a local food economy, those producers might also switch their production to a variety of organic, locally purchased items, and more of consumers’ dollars will remain in the state economy.

A particular set of environmental news stories often dominates our news and our consciousness: climate change legislation, green building initiatives, revelations about what chemicals are in the products we put in and on our body, the incredible rate of species extinction. None of these issues is unimportant, but they often become abstracted in our minds and distanced from our actions when they are relegated to the realm of national politics, corporate policy, and media stories. I’m proud of Illinois not only for taking decisive action on the local food economy, but for making that action so and concrete and tangible to Illinois citizens like myself. The enactment of this new law means that I can look forward to finding local, Illinoisan produce more easily at my supermarket, having a greater variety of that produce at the farmer’s market, and, maybe one day, sending my kids off to their public school with money for a local, organic school lunch.

By Kendra Langdon Juskus

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