Monday, May 25, 2009

Keeping It Local

If you get a chance and haven't already, check out "Local Food, Farms & Jobs: Growing the Illinois Economy," the March 2009 report submitted to the Illinois General Assembly by The Illinois Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force.

The report describes the current state of Illinois' agricultural economy and presents a detailed plan calling for a more unified effort to keep the business of food and farming in-state. Right now, the percentage of Illinois food dollars remaining in-state is at just about four. The task force's goal is to raise that number to 10% by 2010 and 20% by 2020. 

Here are just a few important statistics from the report:

- Illinois consumers spend $48 billion annually on food; almost all of that money leaves the state.

- 80% of Illinois is comprised of farmland; 90% of that farmland has been deemed "prime" by soil scientists, the highest classification given, meaning we have some of the best farming potential on earth.

- Money spent at local businesses creates a multiplier effect, circulating the same dollars up to eight times within the local economy.

Among the primary objectives of the plan is the creation of an Illinois brand - an identifiable way of letting consumers know that the corn, soybeans, pork, or any other Illinois agricultural product they're holding in their hands was produced and processed here.

To make all this happen, all different aspects of the agricultural economy need to come together. We need more farmers and entrepreneurs, both of whom need to know that their investments and work have an awaiting market ready to buy in. Public awareness campaigns need to persuade consumers, businesses, and policy makers on the importance of seeking out and buying the Illinois brand.

Urban agriculture plays a large role. One obstacle is the lack of availability of local farm and food products in low-income, urban areas. The report describes these as "food deserts," virtually bereft of healthy choices, where so much of the food is bought in gas stations and convenience stores. All communities need easy access to locally grown food in the form of farmer's markets, as well as the opportunity to grow their own. Individual and community gardens are a way for people to increase their own sustainability and build an awareness and appreciation for locally grown food, helping to sustain Illinois' agricultural economy at the same time.

There's a ton more in the report, and it's pretty eye-opening. You can read it here:

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