Debbie L. Hillman



Biographical Information

Video
Humble Strength” (5-minute video about Debbie Hillman and the beginning of her work in food policy, 2007) by Saya Hillman, Mac & Cheese Productions www.macncheeseproductions.com

Personal Background:  Narrative
I am a Chicago, Illinois native and have lived in Evanston, IL since 1976, where I was a professional gardener for 25 years (ornamental design, installation, maintenance) and a cabinet-making apprentice for 5 years. As a lifetime community activist, I have worked on neighborhood zoning; Complete Streets (pedestrian, bicycle, and public transportation), alternative energy (wind), hands-on education, local economies, civic engagement, and natural resource conservation (soil, water, air, biodiversity).

Evanston Food Policy Council (2005-14). In 2005, at the age of 54 and an empty-nester, I started looking to take a larger role in my world.  The food-and-farm system spoke to me in a variety of ways and when a colleague suggested that we create a food group, I jumped and co-founded the Evanston Food Policy Council, a grassroots organization.

In 2006, other members of the Evanston Food Policy Council and I began working with Evanston’s State Representative Julie Hamos and a large statewide coalition to develop a comprehensive food and farm agenda for Illinois. The Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Act passed unanimously in 2007. Everyone in Illinois was surprised at the economic potential that Illinois, a farm state with abundant and diverse farm resources, was leaving on the table: 95% of the food that Illinois people eat was  imported from outside Illinois borders.

I was appointed to the 2-year task force created by IFFJA and was hired to staff the task force as a co-coordinator.  Based on the task force report (Local Food, Farms, and Jobs: Growing the Illinois Economy, 2009), the Illinois General Assembly created a permanent state body (Illinois Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Council) whose mission is to rebuild an Illinois-based food and farm economy.

Through 2013, I was involved in most major local food initiatives in Illinois, in the Chicago area, and in Evanston. My contributions included: Policy and projects (design, strategy, and implementation), communications (concept papers, FAQ sheets, legislation, reports), networking, resourcing, team building, mentoring.

National confusions:  real democracy and money.  But as I worked on food-and-farm policy and projects on a local level, I began to see that two major national confusions were undermining all of our efforts:  (a) confusion about real democracy (as compared to representative democracy and capitalism), and (b) confusion about money, banking, public money, private money and the role that the U.S. government plays in the money and banking system.

Much of my learning came through personal crises, but I am discovering that personal crisis is the universe’s way of helping us learn FAST — and making it stick.   So, without leaving the basic framework of the food-and-farm economy, I started to add techniques and public policy components involving:
— money (public banking, co-op business models, crowdfunding, gift economies)
— democracy (meeting facilitation, inclusion, transparency, participatory budgeting, dialogue & deliberation)
— spirituality (connection to my highest self, connection all other beings, including non-humans, connection to the universe)

And I started to work more on the national level, while still paying attention to regional, state, and local activities.

Iroquois Constitution & Iroquois Clan Mothers.  In 2014, I came across some historical information that saved my sanity and pointed out the path that I’d always been on — updating the U.S. Constitution.  Most of that historical information is contained in Barbara Alice Mann’s book, Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas.  Dr. Mann, a member of the Seneca nation (a member nation of the Iroquois League), describes in great detail the real democracy and personal liberty that existed under the Iroquois Constitution (The Great Law of Peace).  This was largely due to the balanced and complementary roles of women’s and men’s councils, centered on the authority and spiritual wisdom of the clan mothers.  The authority, rights, responsibilities of the Gantowisas — clan mothers, government women, indispensable women — are still only dreams in American women’s minds.  And yet they existed, for more than 500 years, right on this land, in North America.   This is because the Iroquois Constitution included some important clauses that the founding fathers of the U.S. missed, ignored, or rejected.

 

Personal Background: Resume

2014-present  U.S. FOOD, FARMS, DEMOCRACY

U.S. food-and-farm councils
Women’s collective public authority (women’s councils codified in U.S. legal structures)
Book club to read U.S. Constitution + Iroquois Constitution (plus secondary sources)

 

2011-2014  TRANSITION:  SELF-EDUCATION AND EXPERIMENTATION

SELF-EDUCATION
Co-ops
Public banking
Single payer health care
Indigenous models of self-governance
Participatory budgeting
Crowdfunding

EXPERIMENTS
Food Vote 2012:  Illinois Survey to find Food Candidates
Food Vote 2012:  National Survey to find Food Candidates
Congressional candidate briefing on food-and-farm (Illinois 10th Congressional District, Brad Schneider, 2012)
Food Systems 101: Class
Evanston Eats: Double website to document all components of a local food economy and to show interconnections between policy and economy
—Food Vote 2013: Food Citizenship + Participatory Democracy
—Field to Fork:  Community Food Chain + Virtual Incubator
Public Banking Coalition

 

2005-2014  LOCAL FOOD AND FARM SYSTEM WORK
Evanston, Chicago, Cook County, Greater Chicago, Illinois, Midwest

POSITIONS

2005-2014  Evanston Food Council, Co-founder and co-chairperson

2008-2010  State of Illinois task force created by the Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Act, Co-founder and co-coordinator

MEMBERSHIPS: Boards, Committees, Working Groups

  • Good Greens USDA FNS (Midwest Office): broaden coalition, find projects aligned with FNS mission (2010- )
  • Cook County Food System Steering Committee. Member (2011-12)
    Food system assessment and creation of a county-level food council
  • Evanston Healthy Community Task Force, Founding member (2009- 13)
  • Friends of the Evanston Farmers Markets, Founding member (2010-13)
  • Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity. Member, Leadership Council (2010-12)
  • Center of Excellence in the Elimination of Disparities (CEED Chicago@UIC). Member, Food Equity Policy Committee (2009-11)
    — Urban Farm Tours for targeted groups (legislators, funders, government staff)
    — Workshop for planners and urban farmers
    — Data collection on access to local food
  • Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council. Member, Steering Committee (2008-10)
  • Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. Member – Food Systems Advisory Committee (2008-09)
    Write regional food section for “Go to 2040” comprehensive plan.
  • Cook County Department of Public Health. Member, Sustainable Food Systems Expert Team (2010)
  • Illinois Farm to School Working Group. Member, coordinating committee (2009-10)
  • Illinois Farmers Market Network. Member, Planning Committee (2008-10)
  • Illinois Fresh Food Fund. Member, Sen. Jacqueline Collins’ advisory team (2009-10)
  • Illinois Public Health Association. Member, Food & Nutrition Section (2010).
  • Network for Evanston’s Future. Member, Steering Committee (2003-10)
  • The Land Connection: Board member, board president (2006-08)
  • The Talking Farm: Founding board member (2006-10)

PROJECTS
Long-term

  • League of Women Voters (Glenview, IL chapter). Food and water policy guidance to state and national conventions, state issues committee (2010-12)
  • McHenry County, Planning department: technical assistance in creating a food council (2010-12)
  • Northwestern University, School of Education and Social Policy. Master of Science in Learning and Organizational Change (MSLOC): content expert, resourcing
    2009-10 Foundations Class
    (Local food procurement for schools) 2010-11 Foundations Class and Practicums (Illinois farm-to-schoolchildren supply chain)
  • Oakton Community College: Faculty development workshops on healthy food systems to help faculty create student service learning projects (2010-11)
  • State of Illinois. Various departments, offices, staffpeople. (2009- )
    Illinois Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Council.
    Resources, networking, analysis
    Illinois Department of Corrections.
    Resources on skills training during incarceration and re-entry.
    Office of the Governor, Sustainability Policy.
    Policy and project updates, award recommendations.
    Green Government Council.
    Local food procurement, food scrap composting.
    Illinois Department of Agriculture
    – Chicago office. Resourcing, networking.

Short-term

  • Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy (2010). Events planning in conjunction with visit by Elaine Weiss, author of Fruits of Victory: Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War
  • DePaul University. “Food and Politics” class: Gauge awareness of Illinois Food, Farms, & Jobs Act (2010)
  • Fresh Taste. Issues and trends identified by Illinois Local & Organic Food & Farm Task Force (2009)
  • Hull House Museum Re-thinking Soup Kitchen. List of potential speakers
  • Loyola University, CUERP. Advanced Food Systems class (2009-10)
  • McHenry County College, Bioneers Planning for Symposium, “Food: How it’s all Connected” (2010)
  • Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management. Social Entrepreneurship in Health and Wellness Challenge (2010-11): improving healthy food access in food deserts. Mentor & expert advisor.
  • Real Food Challenge: Midwest Summit (2010). Resourcing, networking
  • Shawnash Institute (2009) Community food assessment for social service agencies
    High school curricula: food systems, career paths in local farm and food economy
  • WCPT Radio. “Growing Local” campaign and Mike Nowak show (2009)

GUEST SPEAKER (representative sample)
Conferences, Forums, Films

  • American Corn Growers Association annual conference (2007)
  • Chicago Food Summit (2008)
  • “Fresh” the Movie – Chicago premiere (2010)
  • Green Festival – Chicago (2008)
  • Green Town – College of Lake County (2010)
  • Heartland Bioneers – Carbondale (2007)
  • Illinois Dietetics Association (Chicago, 2009, 2010)
  • Illinois Food Summit (Kankakee, 2008)
  • Slow Food USA – Governors Forum (Chicago, 2007)

Classes

  • Northwestern University, Public Policy (Alba Alexander, 2011)
  • DePaul University, The Urban Pastoral – Farms, Gardens and the City (Hugh Bartling, 2011)
  • Loyola University, Food Systems (Adam Schubel, 2009, 2010)
  • Roosevelt University, Writing Social Justice class (Kim Ruffin, 2009, 2010)
  • University of Illinois Chicago, Food Systems class (Curt Winkle, 2009)