Check out this inside scoop from Natalie Kenny-Marquez as she talks about her first time experience lobbying with Illinois Stewardship Alliance to promote positive policy solutions that support local food and the farmers at her market.
By: Natalie Kenny Marquez, Farmers Market Manager of Urbana’s Market at the Square
I recently had the unique opportunity to participate in the Illinois Stewardship Alliance’s Local Food Lobby Day. As a lifelong resident of Illinois, and holding a bachelor’s degree in political science, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never step foot into our state’s immaculate capitol building. I’ve been on the grounds and toured the area many times, but I’ve never been inside, let alone inside while our elected officials are present and working.
The day started off pretty early as I left Champaign-Urbana alongside my friends from The Land Connection, including their Market Manager Sarah Simeziane and Farm Program Coordinator Mallory Krieger. We traveled together to Springfield (carpooling in a hybrid vehicle…so sustainable!) and arrived at Arlington’s, the restaurant and meeting point for the Local Food Lobby Day participants. The restaurant was filled with like-minded individuals from various facets of local farming all banding together to support a common theme, the family farmer and producer.
I was warmly greeted by the fantastic (Illinois Stewardship Alliance) staff that you know worked very hard to coordinate and organize the event. The Alliance staff prepared each participant a folder filled with information to not only bring us up-to-speed on the four bills the Alliance had proposed this year, but also maps of the capitol building, details on our elected officials, and tips on how to lobby. The event kicked off with a briefing on each of the four bills– one of which would help streamline regulations at farmers markets, making it easier for farmers and market managers like myself to understand the rules and work with our county health departments. We were then put into teams with individuals from our area, given a list of legislators to visit, and a map of offices to help plan our attack.
Upon entering the capitol complex I was just in awe. I’m pretty sure that feeling remained the entire time I was there, and for that I must apologize to my team. I fear there were times throughout the day that I was looking up and down and all around – taking in the people and the activities – when I probably should have been plotting out our next stop or recording notes from our last meeting. I was definitely a first-timer, and it probably showed!
The first person our team set out to meet with was Senator Scott Bennett. As we stepped onto the elevator to take us to his office, we looked up to see that he was actually standing right there in the elevator! Talk about perfect timing! We quickly took advantage of the situation by introducing ourselves and announcing where we were from. As our local elected official, he is a customer at our farmers market in Urbana! He was very complimentary of our farmers market which made me happy to hear. Senator Bennett engaged in conversation with us, taking the time to listen to what we had to say. He offered great feedback and was supportive of our efforts at the farmers market. He invited us to visit him in his office in Champaign, which I hope to do this spring. I’m sure he would have given us even more time had he not had to attend a committee meeting. However, he did follow-up with our team via email that same morning to thank us for visiting him. What a great experience!
We weren’t as lucky at meeting in-person with our other elected officials, most likely because the capitol was buzzing with meetings and sessions. Instead we delivered information about the bills to their office assistants and left messages with the assistants to pass these on to the legislators. While it would have been more thrilling to meet with more legislators in person, the interaction we had with Senator Bennett was well worth the drive to Springfield and I enjoyed the opportunity to lobby for our local farmers and producers.
Thank you to the Illinois Stewardship Alliance for organizing a great day. Farmers markets depend on the support of the whole community. I encourage you to visit your local farmers market. Your patronage of local farmers and local businesses is an investment in your community. It helps to build a healthier and more vibrant place to live, work and do business!