In 2013, I dug up half the front lawn in order to grow food for the first time. I am pleased to say that this childhood bookworm, who cried at the prospect of touching, well… worms, had a hand in growing enough produce by 2015 to last our household through the winter (vermicomposting with worms and all—no tears!).
My arrival at local foods advocacy is a story of coming full circle. In college my political science coursework was heavy on human rights and environmental science and policy. My senior paper grew out of a Politics of Obesity course and analyzed the relationships between commodity crop subsidies and SNAP (food stamps). Basically, my ideal job upon graduation would have been this one, but the harsh reality of student loan payments led me first into the financial sector. It was interesting to learn more about the stock market and banking, but it profoundly affected my worldview to watch from within the industry as the bottom began falling out of the economy in 2007.
On to law school with questions of how the rules of this game work and how this devastation had slipped through our legal system. I completed a tax law degree along with my general law degree and was fascinated by the still-developing rules of international corporate taxation and their implications for the economy as a whole—just as the income inequality discussion was elevating into the mainstream.
Ultimately, I reflected that the derivative, transactional nature of finance was manifesting more and more in our social, human relations and jeopardizing our ability to be real, to be present, and to be connected. The best way I could think to address the vulnerabilities of our complex, detached systems was to help strengthen real, present, caring, connected, earth-systems based alternatives. This took me back to the values I had pursued in college and interest in justice, food, and environment. When I stumbled upon Illinois Stewardship Alliance, I recognized those values in the work of this organization.
First, I offered pro bono help drafting legislation through Illinois Stewardship Alliance’s Grassroots Policy Advisory Committee, and then I was invited to join the board. My own legal practice focused on legal planning for local businesses, mostly in food and farming. This was a “low bono” practice that I supplemented by working part-time as a harvest hand on an organic vegetable farm. Between the farm, the backyard garden, and our community garden, we had produce through the winter. That winter, I also transitioned from the board of Illinois Stewardship Alliance to the staff, as the new Policy Associate, picking up the bills I helped draft and advancing them through the legislature. In my first year, we passed four bills helping cooperatives, seed libraries, and–to really come full circle–helping SNAP clients access more fruit and vegetables from local farmers, providing nutritious alternatives to commodity-derived processed foods. We have a long way to go to build strong, sustainable local foods economies, but I believe we can work together to accomplish our goals, and I encourage all who are interested to get engaged and involved. We need you!
Now is the time to come together and build the food and farm system we want to see. Together, we can build a future we can be proud of.