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Illinois Moves "Beyond the Fork" to Support Local Food

PHOTO: Demand for local, sustainably-grown food continues to surge in Illinois. Advocates say that should be a cue for state leaders to continue their support of local food systems. Photo credit: AcrylicArtist on morguefile.com.
PHOTO: Demand for local, sustainably-grown food continues to surge in Illinois. Advocates say that should be a cue for state leaders to continue their support of local food systems. Photo credit: AcrylicArtist on morguefile.com.
March 26, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Farmers and citizens from across the state will be sharing their appreciation for local and sustainably produced foods with lawmakers in Springfield today. They'll convene at the Capitol for the fifth annual Local Food Awareness Day to share ideas about policies that can help support local food and farms.

Wes King, executive director of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, said many Illinoisans appreciate foods that are locally made and grown, and want to support those businesses.

"Demand from consumers for locally produced food and farm products outstrips the supply easily," he said, "so we're just trying to raise awareness about local food as an economic engine, as a business opportunity."

State and national lawmakers are beginning to understand the importance of local food and farms, King said, adding that he applauded supportive measures - including the 2009 Illinois Local Food, Farms and Jobs Act, the 2011 Cottage Food Law, and a 2012 Senate resolution urging Congress to adopt a farm bill that supports local food systems.

King said Illinoisans are playing an integral role in building successful local food systems. But to move forward, he added, it's time to move "beyond the fork."

"People have been told you can change the food system by 'voting with your fork' in choosing to purchase local and sustainable food, which is absolutely true," he said. "But if we want to get the truly sustainable and just food system that I think most of the American public wants, we really have to get involved with policy."

King said his group is watching some key legislation, including the Farmers' Market Regulatory Modernization Bill, HB 5657 and SB 3380. It would create a simplified statewide process for farmers' markets. Now, he said, each county creates its own regulations, which can be a costly barrier for producers.

"It's hurting both the actual farmers themselves, who have to navigate this patchwork quilt of regulations," King said, "as well as harming the consumers who don't have access to these products because the farmers choose to go to other counties that are less strict."

Another topic in discussions with lawmakers today is the Farmers' Market Transparency Act, which would require vendors to provide customers with more information about the farms where their food is being produced.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL