Illinois General Assembly Votes Strengthen Local Foods Economy

Over the final days of the regular legislative session, the Illinois General Assembly passed not one, but four local foods bills.  Illinois Stewardship Alliance worked with Illinois Environmental Council and other partners to champion these four bills.

HB6027 (Rep. Tryon – Sen. Harmon) creates a new program that invests in the health of low-income Illinoisans, subject to appropriations.  The program would provide double-value incentives to SNAP clients for the purchase of additional fruits and vegetables at farmers markets.  State funds would qualify for a dollar-for-dollar match from the federal government.  This program offers a preventative approach to chronic illnesses such as obesity and diabetes among our low-income residents, while directly benefiting local farmers and local economies.  A coalition of organizations, including, among others, Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity, Experimental Station, and American Heart Association collaborated on this bill, and five celebrity chefs signed a letter of support to Senate President Cullerton expressing their desire for all Illinois residents to have access to fresh, nutritious foods.  These chefs include Chef Rick Bayless, Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Chef Jason Hammel, Lula Café, Chef Paul Kahan, Blackbird, Avec, The Publican, Chef Matthias Merges, Yusho, Billy Sunday, A10, Chef Michel Nischan, Wholesome Wave.

HB6027 passed the Illinois House unanimously in April, and passed the Senate last Monday.

SB3130 (Sen. McCann – Rep. Butler) clears up legal uncertainty about the application of the commercial Seed Law to seed sharing activities, particularly through seed libraries.  In 2014, two states attempted to enforce their seed laws against seed libraries, effectively shutting them down and causing alarm to seed savers nationwide, though as of March 2016, both states have reversed course.  Seed libraries hold heirloom, open-pollinated seed that community members can “check out” for free, grow in their gardens, and then may “return” seed they save at season’s end.  Some Illinois seed libraries stopped offering saved seed after 2014 out of concern that current legal gray areas could expose them to regulatory overreach.  Seed saving helps preserve biodiversity and increases food security by establishing locally-adapted seed varieties.  National Geographic reported that from 1903 to 1983, an estimated 93% of our food seed became extinct, and seed sharing helps combat the loss of additional unique heirloom varieties.  While the intent of the bill was to clarify that the actions required of commercial seed companies do not apply to interpersonal noncommercial seed sharing, stakeholders reached a compromise requiring seed libraries and public seed swap organizers to adopt either labels or record-keeping standards stating the year, type of seed, and source.  This requirement would not apply to private seed swapping, nor would permitting and testing be required of any interpersonal noncommercial seed sharing activities.  This measure will give seed libraries the comfort and certainty to continue, or in some cases to resume, offering saved seed to their communities without fear of regulatory repercussions.

SB3130 passed the Senate in April with 43 yes votes, despite opposition, was amended in the House as a compromise, then passed the House unanimously.  The Senate concurred with the amendment on the final day of session.

HB5898 (Rep. Moeller – Sen. Martinez) authorizes the formation of worker cooperatives by opening the Co-operative Act to all types of businesses.  This Act (originally written in 1915) currently permits formation of cooperatives only in such areas as groceries, farming activities, and manufacturing, reflecting the economy of the early 20th Century—not the service-based economy of today.  Butchers, brewers, restaurants, food hubs, laundry services, bike repair shops and more already operate successfully as cooperatives elsewhere.  Cooperatives are democratically owned and operated, and keep profits in local economies.

HB5898 passed the Illinois House in April, and passed the Senate unanimously last Sunday.

HB5933 (Rep. Gabel – Sen. Biss) reduces the size of the Local Food Farms and Jobs Council from 35 members to 20 and creates more flexibility in its membership.  The Council’s mission is to facilitate the growth of an Illinois-based local farm and food product economy, and this bill will make it easier for the Council to reach quorum and accomplish business.

HB5933 passed the Illinois House in April, and passed the Senate unanimously last Sunday.