Federal and State Leaders Welcomed Farmers Coming Together
In the wake of a global pandemic that has had consequences on Illinois farmers and communities, local food farmers across the state are banding together to solve problems and put forward legislative solutions to grow the local food economy and enhance food security. On December 2nd and 3rd, over 70 farmers gathered virtually for the launch of the Local Food Farmer Caucus, a new program of Illinois Stewardship Alliance.
The Local Food Farmer Caucus is a group of Alliance member farmers that believe that Illinois can feed Illinois, that farmers are the heart of the local food movement, and that when farmers come together to form a collective voice, the local food movement will be stronger. Farmers in the group raise fruits, vegetables, flowers, and livestock and primarily sell their products locally through farmers markets, CSAs, farm-to-table restaurants, and other Illinois-based businesses.
Among the policy issues the Caucus is considering addressing in 2021 are:
- Expanding Illinois’ cottage food law,
- shifting state procurement to prioritize more local and sustainably raised foods,
- solving the livestock processing bottleneck, and
- addressing food insecurity through SNAP access and incentive programs at farmers markets.
Other issues discussed included farm-to-school, lack of farm mentorship, commercial kitchen regulations, and other regulatory barriers that are difficult to navigate or that disadvantage small farms and businesses.
A number of federal and state officials provided opening remarks to the Caucus.
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-13) of Taylorville described the bipartisan work that Congress needs to do to address the pandemic and also plan for post-pandemic.
“During the pandemic, we’ve got to do our job and reopen the PPP program so that small businesses can begin to survive a longer pandemic than any of us thought. Post-pandemic, we’ve got to be able to work together and put some bipartisan solutions together that are going to allow us to address some of the issues within the supply chain that our local food and marketplaces have, but at the same time, do it in a way that doesn’t hinder you from being able to grow,” Congressman Davis told Caucus members.
In her comments, Lt. Gov Juliana Stratton thanked farmers and small ag businesses for standing tall when climate and a pandemic threatens health and impacts the market.
“On behalf of Governor Pritzker, I want to tell you we appreciate and care about you as we battle both public health and economic crises due to COVID19,” she said.
Stratton told farmers that in the latest round of Business Interruption Grants, more than $100 million is dedicated to businesses in downstate and rural communities, including independently owned retail stores, tourism spots, like wineries and apple orchards, as well as $5 million set aside for livestock production that has been disrupted.
In the last year, Stratton’s Cultivating our Communities campaign has showcased over 50 Illinois farms in counties all throughout Illinois.
“We live because you farm,” Stratton said. “In a world when so many things divide us, food is a connecting point. As I always say, ag truly connects us all.”
In pre-recorded comments, Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello spoke of the importance of direct-market farms to the state’s economy.
“The Illinois Department of Agriculture recognizes how important local food farmers are to our economy, and more importantly, how vital they are to feeding Illinoisans,” Director Costello said. “I welcome your input on how the Illinois Department of Agriculture can help to support you and help diversify farming in the state of Illinois.”
State Representative Sonya Harper told farmers she appreciates having support to help advance initiatives in Springfield dealing with improving food access, building local healthy local food systems, and creating even more sustainable businesses and jobs in the state. Harper serves as the Chair of the Illinois House Agriculture and Conservation Committee.
“We’ve seen from COVID, it is more important than ever to ensure our own food supply here in the state of Illinois. In order to do that we need to help our farmers, our small farmers, our new and beginning farmers, and especially our socially disadvantaged farmers,” Rep. Harper said.
Farmers in the Local Food Farmer Caucus will work to build relationships with key policy-makers and keep them informed on issues facing local food systems.
“I’m excited to work with other farmers and stakeholders on these issues related to the health of humans, animals and the environment,” says Andy Hazzard of Hazzard Free Farms in Pecatonica, IL. “So often as farmers, we don’t recognize that the pressures we face are ones that anyone who eats, drinks or breathes also faces, and that these pressures are the result of existing systems and institutions that are designed with profit at the pinnacle, while the costs are externalized and placed on the poor health of the people of America, our soil, water and animals. When we come together we find our common ground, share our experiences and solve problems, it’s powerful and serves to make our realities better for all people and our planet.”
“For too long decisions have been made without farmers at the table. This caucus changes that,” says Kathleen Mueller, Policy Organizer at the Alliance. “The Local Food Farmer Caucus aims to put power back into the hands of family farmers. When farmers are in the control of the food system, we all win with healthier food, wealthier local economies, and thriving communities.”
If your a local food farmer interested in joining the Caucus, learn more here:
If you’re interested in supporting the work of the Local Food Farmer Caucus, please consider making a donation to Illinois Stewardship Alliance today.