This year, while the federal Farm Bill is a top policy priority for the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, there’s is still plenty of work for us to do right here in our own state capitol to grow the local food economy and support farmers’ conservation efforts. With active campaigns at both the state and federal levels this year, your participation in action alerts, Local Food Lobby Day, Dishing on the Farm Bill, and other advocacy activities are extra important. You make it possible for our small staff to bring mighty teams to multiple tables at once and get things done.
What’s on the state agenda this year?
Industrial hemp farming: The 2014 Farm Bill authorized states to create industrial hemp research programs. While Illinois passed a hemp research bill in 2014, other states’ laws, and additional guidance from the federal government, have made it clear that our law is unnecessarily restrictive and that marketing is an acceptable research purpose. Currently, only certain universities may apply for hemp permits. Allowing farmers to grow hemp would provide an additional cash crop and conservation tool to add to their production rotations. Other states like Kentucky have already put into place such laws and have products for sale on the market already.
SNAP (food stamp) match at farmers markets: In 2016, the Alliance worked with partners in the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity to pass a bill that created a state fund to match SNAP purchases at farmers markets with incentives to help low income folks purchase more fruit and vegetables, while putting those dollars in the pockets of local family farmers. Some markets are already offering this program with funding from private and municipal sources, matched dollar-for-dollar by the federal government, but a state fund could be more equitably distributed to where the money is most needed. Governor Rauner put an expiration date of June 2019 on the program, which we need to repeal. The legislature can appropriate $500,000 annually to the program, but have not yet funded it. We can’t let this program expire before it has even been given a chance.
Fully funding the Soil & Water Conservation Districts: While the SWCDs were fully funded by the Illinois legislature in last year’s state budget, the Governor withheld nearly two-thirds of that funding. The Alliance will continue to push for full funding in order to protect Illinois waters for drinking and recreational use, as well as prevent the degradation of Illinois soils and wildlife habitats for the future.
Clarifications to the Illinois Food Freedom Act: We are working to include canned tomatoes.
To build a thriving local food and farm system across Illinois, we need to lay the foundation with fair food and farm policies, and these four pieces of legislation are all building blocks in that foundation. We can’t build the foundation without you though. State leaders need to see and hear from you that you value fair food and farm policies that create healthy communities, build stronger local economies, conserve natural resources, and make local food available for all.