by Allison Arends and Gary Taylor
Of all the food consumed in Illinois, only 4 percent is grown within the state’s borders. This is a startling statistic, but not surprising for states in the Midwestern Corn Belt where farm economies have largely developed into corn-soybean rotation monocultures. Considering Illinois is home to 76,000 farms and 950 food manufacturing companies, enormous amounts of farm commodities are exported out of the state, while similar amounts are imported in order to feed Illinois citizens. This has resulted in a, “costly arrangement that leaves too many people without enough access to healthy fruits and vegetables.” Recently, both community level food systems and community-supported agriculture organizations have grown substantially. However, large consumers like hospitals, restaurant, and grocery stores have found it difficult to obtain local food in the necessary quantities.
In an attempt to contribute the efforts of state government to restructuring the food system and encourage Illinois farmers to respond directly to local consumers’ demands for fresh, locally-produced food, Governor Patrick Quinn recently signed into law the Illinois Local Food, Farms and Jobs Act of 2009. The law creates a Grown-in-Illinois labeling and certification program to be administered by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The law also sets forth procurement goals that direct state agencies to purchase at least 20 percent of their food locally by 2020. State-funded institutions such as schools have a goal of 10 percent by 2020. State agencies will be allowed to pay up to a 10 percent premium above the lowest bid in order to purchase locally grown food.
In addition, the law creates the Local Food, Farms and Jobs Council, a not-for-profit corporation tasked with facilitating the growth of an Illinois-based local farm and food product economy. This council, governed by a 35-member board of directors, will take actions designed to achieve the law’s goals of stimulating rural and urban communities, providing access to healthy fresh foods, creating jobs, and supporting economic growth through the distribution of Illinois local farm or food products to all of its citizens. One of its main functions will be to work with public and private organizations and agencied to develop strategies for local food purchasing.
The state expects that increasing local food sales will bring a $30 billion boost to its economy the multiplier effect of keeping value-added production and consumption local.