On Thursday, February 16th, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, in partnership with the Illinois Environmental Council, held a press conference to announce their 2017 legislative priorities. The Alliance is introducing 4 new bills this year that aim to streamline local food regulations, making it easier for farmers to grow their businesses and increasing consumer access to local food across the state. The bills will standardize farmers market regulations, add new foods to the list of foods acceptable for cottage (home) production, help raw milk farmers burdened by new regulations, and authorize the Illinois Department of Agriculture to license farmers to produce industrial hemp for food and fiber. In addition, the Alliance is also supporting a Local Food Resolution that will urge congress to support local food programs in the 2018 Farm Bill, and a budget appropriation that will provide funds to implement a matching program for SNAP recipients to use for purchasing fresh produce at farmers markets.
Read on to learn about these important priorities and what they mean for farmers and citizens in Illinois.
- Local Food Business Opportunities (SB1469/HB2820 – Sen. Koehler/Rep. Andersson): This bill does double duty by adding to the list of allowable foods for production by Cottage Food Operations (homemade foods) & streamlining certain farmers market food sanitation rules across counties.
- With regards to cottage food, more allowable foods means more small business owners & more dollars staying in local economies.
- Under the current cottage food legislation, jams, jellies and baked goods are allowed, but no value-added vegetable products are allowed. Diversified family farms in Illinois raise more vegetables than fruits, and providing an opportunity to process these foods and add value has the potential to not only decrease food waste, but to increase the economic viability of small farms. Foods added to the list include acidified foods such as pickled or fermented vegetables and kombucha; condiments such as mustards, ketchup, relish, and sauces; as well as dried herbs, dried fruit, dried vegetables, candy, confections, granola, dry cereal, nut mixes, tortillas, popcorn, flavored vinegar and honey, dried noodles, milled flours, and other similar products.
- This bill also addresses disparities across counties in refrigeration & hand washing station rules at farmers markets. Currently, these regulations are set by each county health department and the rules and fees vary widely. Standardizing these regulations will make it easier for small farmers to attend multiple farmers markets in various counties.
- Illinois Food Freedom (HB3063 – Rep. Guzzardi): We prefer this alternative to the bill above. This bill provides that a food producer can sell any harvested or homemade food to an informed end consumer for personal home use, without inspection or certification (excluding non-poultry meats). Cottage food producers must have a Food Service Sanitation Managers Certificate, register with the county, and follow labeling requirements. The bill also streamlines farmers markets food sanitation rules the same way the above bill does.
- Ultimately, this bill provides more opportunities for diversified farmers and entrepreneurs than just adding to the list of allowable cottage foods.
- Unprocessed Milk (SB1662/HB2466 – Sen. Koehler/Rep. Breen): This bill provides that raw milk may be produced, distributed & sold in accordance with IDPH rules, and deletes restriction to on-farm only sales & distribution.
- Helps family dairy farms stay in business under new, expensive, and non-scale appropriate regulations implemented in 2016.
- Gives consumers the ability to purchase raw milk without cumbersome on-farm sales requirements.
- Industrial Hemp (SB1294 – Sen. Hutchinson): Creates an opportunity for IL farmers to apply for permits from IDOA in order to grow industrial hemp and instructs IDOA to write rules. Kentucky already has 135 farms, 4.500+ acres & 40 processors enrolled in hemp production. IL was the lead producer in the ‘40s. (Note: Industrial hemp does not contains the levels of THC to be used as a drug and instead is used for food and fiber. The 2014 Farm Bill authorized states to write laws permitting hemp research or the creation of pilot programs for hemp production, including research into marketing.)
- Local Food Resolution: Urges Congress to support local food programs in the 2018 Farm Bill. Illinois Stewardship Alliance works with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to advance federal sustainable agriculture policy, and we want IL members of Congress and Senators to continue helping to strengthen local food economies.
- Healthy Local Foods Incentives (Budget Appropriation): $500,000 appropriation to fund the program created by SB1367, passed by the 99th General Assembly. Provides matching dollars for SNAP clients to purchase additional fruit & vegetables at farmers markets.
Good food and farm policy that supports small family farms, local food systems and sustainable agriculture will not happen on their own; they require farmers and consumers to “Move Beyond the Fork,” and get engaged in the legislative process.