Contact: Jim Slama
Phone: 708.763.9925

Food, Farm, and Jobs Act Will Support Local and Organic Food in Illinois

By Jim Slama
Illinois is on the verge of passing major new legislation to encourage the production, processing, and distribution of local and organic food. The Illinois Food, Farm and Jobs Act of 2007 passed the state Senate 57-0 on May 24th after passing the House 108-8. In March, at the EXPO Governor Blagojevich’s Deputy Chief of Staff Steve Frenkel vowed that the Governor will sign the Bill.

The goal of the legislation is to make Illinois the Midwest leader in local and organic food and fiber production.  It authorizes the creation of an “Illinois Local and Organic, Food and Farm Task Force” that will be charged with developing a plan and budget to support an Illinois local food system. “This legislation is a way for farmers, consumers, and businesses to benefit by producing more local and organic food right here in Illinois,” says Evanston State Representative Julie Hamos, chief sponsor of the Act.

The Food, Farms, and Jobs Act follows up a feasibility study produced by Sustain and funded by the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the USDA’s Federal State Marketing Improvement Program. The study found that Illinois residents buy $500 million of organic food, 95% of which is grown out of state. With this study as a basis, Sustain conceived of the legislation, worked to develop a diverse statewide coalition of farmers, businesses, NGO’s, and other stakeholders, helped craft the principles and language of the bill, and worked with the coalition on a statewide awareness campaign which created overwhelming political support for the Act’s passage.

“The key to winning this victory was the outstanding coalition that emerged to work together towards passage,” says Slama. “People, businesses, and organizations from every section of the state recognized the value of the Food, Farms, and Jobs Act and actively supported it.” Other coalition leaders include the Evanston Food Policy Council, the Illinois Farmer Consumer Coalition, The Illinois Stewardship Alliance, and Northern Illinois University. In addition, State Senator Jacqueline Collins was the chief Senate sponsor.

“By retaining food dollars within the Illinois economy it will benefit family farmers and local communities while creating jobs and economic development, both urban and rural” says Sustain president, Jim Slama.” Currently there are thousands of jobs in Illinois tied with local and organic food processing, production, distribution, and sales. With state support, this sector can continue to rapidly grow and produce new opportunities.”

The bill also confronts the fact that many Illinois communities are “food deserts” without sufficient grocery stores with fresh fruits and vegetables. “Our hope is that the Task Force will encourage the state to develop programs addressing this problem,” says Hamos. “Many Chicago neighborhoods and downstate communities will benefit from more food access.”

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