IL Local & Organic Food & Farm Task Force Plan Released

March 4, 2009 at 12:33 pm


SPRINGFIELD, IL— A statewide task force report delivered today to the Illinois General Assembly presents a local farm-and-food development strategy that experts say could trigger $20 to $30 billion in new economic activity every year, creating thousands of new jobs while revitalizing rural communities.
Legislation has been filed in both the House and Senate to get key elements of the plan underway. Even though Illinois has one of the nation’s largest agricultural economies, only a tiny fraction of Illinoisans’ estimated $48 billion annual food expenditures is spent on products grown in state. The report of the Illinois Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force concludes that even small increases in the amount of food grown for local consumption can generate an enormous amount of new economic activity, all of it within the state, for farmers and others in food-related businesses.

The report presents a strategy for increasing the amount of money spent on Illinois-grown food to 10 percent of the statewide total by 2020 and to 20 percent by 2030, generating $20 to $30 billion in economic activity and
thousands of new jobs in farming and the food industry each year.

“This  plan proposes dramatic expansion of the local farm and food networks in Illinois’ already world-renowned agricultural infrastructure. It encourages Illinois farmers to respond directly to consumers’ demand for fresh, tasty, locally-produced foods, and shows how to do it,” said Wes Jarrell, chairman of the 32-member task force that
wrote the report “Local Food, Farms, and Jobs: Growing the Illinois Economy.” Jarrell is Professor of Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Illinois, and a farmer himself.

“The broadly-based task force met regularly and engaged in vigorous discussion about how best to serve the people and the economy of Illinois. The result of their hard work represents a turning point for the state’s rural economy,” Said Jarrell. He said that a local farm and food system in Illinois will bring jobs and economic opportunity to the urban and suburban areas of the state as well as to the rural economy through expanded food processing systems and the growth of urban agriculture projects.

According to the report: “The business of creating and maintaining all the links in the local supply chain—aggregating, processing, packaging, storing, and transporting products—translates into jobs that cannot be outsourced. Right now, such a system doesn’t exist. There is not enough local food to meet the demand, nor enough farmers growing local food, nor companies in the business of processing local food. But there are too many food marketers disappointing their customers. This void is what is called opportunity.”

“Illinois farms produce commodities that go into products feeding humans and animals all over the world,” said Representative Julie Hamos (D) Evanston, lead sponsor on the legislation that established the task force and enabled its year-long effort. “That perhaps 95 per cent of the fruits, vegetables, and meats that Illinoisans eat are produced in other states or countries is an astonishing imbalance and presents us with an enormous opportunity.

This plan represents an important step forward in efforts getting underway in Illinois that will enable farmers in the state to produce and sell fresh food and other farm products, keeping billions of dollars in our communities.”
Based on the report’s findings, Hamos and State Senator Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) have filed new legislation, which when enacted, will set in motion important elements of an Illinois local farm, food, and jobs economy.

“Illinois is faced with the preponderance of fast food establishments,” said Collins. “This bill will help provide fresh, healthy and easily accessible food in many of the state’s underserved areas while putting Illinoisans to work.”

“The development of a comprehensive, intrastate food production and distribution system has the potential to provide diversified income for farmers and greater economic prosperity for rural communities,” said Tom Jennings, Director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Key findings from the report include:
• The market for local food is growing. The number of farmers markets in Illinois grew from 97 in 1999 to 270 in 2008. The number of community-supported agriculture organizations, which allow consumers to “subscribe” to a variety of Illinois-grown food products throughout the season, grew from 14 to 68 in the past eight years. In general, there is far more demand than supply for locally grown food.
• Demand extends into wholesale markets. Illinois colleges and universities, as well as corporate kitchens, schools, hospitals, prisons, restaurants, and grocery stores want to buy farm products from nearby sources. Inadequate local food production and delivery channels pinch supply. Illinois’ predominant farm and food systems is designed to serve distant markets, not link farm production with in-state markets.
• Local food system development is a nationwide phenomenon. Many states are taking steps to satisfy consumer demand to know how food is produced, where, and by whom. State government’s role is to help jumpstart job creation, lending, and investment in the local food system so that entrepreneurs can grow the economy. By participating in this effort, Illinois is helping to create a new form of interstate commerce.

The Task Force is comprised of farmers, distributors, retailers, community organizations, and government representatives from across the state, convened to develop a plan to expand and support a local food system and recommend ways to overcome obstacles farmers face in growing diversified crops and bringing them to local markets. With Jarrell as chair, co-coordinators of the task force are Debbie Hillman of Evanston and Jim Braun of Springfield.
The legislation filed by Hamos and Collins includes the following measures seen as vital in launching a statewide local food system:

The most immediate action would involve creating new policy that directs state agencies to utilize existing staff, resources, and authorities to facilitate community-based farm and food networks.
Other measures include:
–Establishing the Illinois Food Farms and Jobs Council to serve as a continuing source of coordination, action and information supporting expansion of local food economies.
–Education and support for existing and future farmers and farm workers through training programs, and the creation of networks linking local food producers to market makers at the local, regional and state levels
–New food procurement policies that will encourage and facilitate the purchase of local farm and food products by state-funded cafeterias to the maximum extent practical.
– Streamlining regulatory process and eliminating barriers, making it easier for food producers to navigate tax, zoning, licensing, and other regulations
– Building public/private partnerships by more fully integrating agriculture into local, regional, state and federal economic development strategy