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ILLINOIS ACTION ALERT: Pembroke Township — gas pipeline or regenerative agriculture? or ???

Global arguments re economic development vs. economic stability, making a profit vs. making a living are playing out in the microcosm in Pembroke Township, Illinois — south of Chicago, south of Lake Michigan’s tip, just near the Indiana state line. It’s the climate conundrum of our times. Here’s a recent Chicago Sun-Times headline describing the situation: In Kankakee County’s Pembroke Township, race, poverty, farming, Nicor gas pipeline converge.

UPDATE — October 20, 2021
Despite a last-ditch effort to get Gov. Pritzker to veto HB3404, it was signed into law in August 2021. Here’s my August 6, 2021 Twitter thread (4).

UPDATE — June 4, 2021
The Pembroke Township natural gas pipeline bill (HB3404) has passed both houses of the Illinois General Assembly. I still see two opportunities to prevent the implementation of this bill and/or to promote more comprehensive community conversation:
— Gov. Pritzker veto (and IGA doesn’t override)
— If the Governor signs it into law, the bill requires at least two public hearings: “(6) a statement to confirm that the public utility has held at least 2 pre-filing public meetings in the community and considered public input from those meetings when developing and implementing its plans.”

UPDATE — May 19, 2021
It is likely that the Illinois Senate will vote on this bill on Friday, May 21. See a complete update at the end of this post. State Senators should be contacted to vote NO by Thursday, May 20.

The decision, however, is playing out at the state level, in the Illinois General Assembly. Senate Bill 2393 — the Pembroke Township Natural Gas Investment Pilot Program Act (for short, Pembroke Twp-Natural Gas) — is pitting agroecology against economic development, forcing everyone on all sides to define their terms and be scrupulous in their language. A large dictionary is going to be a useful tool on Friday, April 30 if the Third Reading of the bill takes place in the Illinois Senate.

If you’re in favor of regenerative agriculture (including wild area conservation), you might want to ask your State Senator to vote NO on SB2393. On the other hand, there are legitimate arguments for short-term economic development in favor of the Nicor pipeline. Is there a third proposal that no one’s thought of yet?

This is where the 2009 Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Plan comes in. Perhaps it’s time to start implementation.

In this blogpost, I make two recommendations:
— Short-term: Defeat the Pembroke pipeline bill.
— Long-term: Promote a deeper, more democratic discussion in Pembroke Township to come up with a better economic proposal, through implementation of the 2009 Illinois Local Food, Farms & Jobs Plan 

Here’s the details:
A. BACKGROUND: Pembroke Twp-Natural Gas Bill
1. Legislative Status
2. The Story
1. Contact State Senators: Vote NO
2. Contact State Reps: Thank the 18 who voted no
3. Ask Gov. Pritzker to implement the ILFFJ Plan
4. Remind other Illinois residents about the ILFFJ Plan
5. Ask Pembroke Township residents if they would be interested in further discussion, facilitated by the ILFFJ Plan

A. BACKGROUND: Pembroke Twp-Natural Gas Bill

1. Legislative Status
Illinois Senate might vote on this bill this week.
It looks like the House has already passed its version (April 15, 88-14). (I’m not sure if the bills are the same.)

Third reading deadline in the Senate has been set for April 30.
Debate and votes usually take place after third reading.
Best to check with your State Senator’s office about protocols and votes.

SB2393 Official bill page “Pembroke Twp-Natural Gas”
HB3404 See House bill page. “Pembroke Twp-Natural Gas”

2. The Story
In Kankakee County’s Pembroke Township, race, poverty, farming, Nicor gas pipeline converge
April 23, 2021 Chicago Sun-Times article
(co-published with InsideClimate News)
by Brett Chase

a. Article cites a sustainability plan for Pembroke Township in partnership with the Field Museum.I haven’t been able to find the plan itself, but here’s the project webpage. Evidently the plan was presented to the community in March; it sounds like they’re still working on the final version.

b. One of the Pembroke farmers quoted, Johari Cole-Kweli, was a member of the Illinois Local & Organic, Food & Farm Task Force which wrote the Illinois farm-based climate plan adopted by the State of Illinois in 2009 (unanimous except for 1 vote on a technicality).

I suspect the Field Museum’s Pembroke sustainability plan (in which I’m sure Johari was involved) has some synergies with the Illinois Local Food, Farms & Jobs Plan of 2009, as well as some improvements.

c. See my recent post about the Illinois plan, which has yet to be implemented, and which American Farmland Trust recently said doesn’t exist (see Action Item #1). My blog includes details of the plan plus suggested updates. LOCAL FOOD, FARMS & JOBS: The 2009 climate plan for Illinois farmers


1. Contact your State Senators. Ask them to vote No on SB2393.
For the record, I support regenerative agriculture and cannot support a new pipeline. I will be asking my State Senator (Laura Fine) to vote against SB2393.

2. Thank the 18 State Representatives (Illinois House) who have already voted NO on this project (HB3404).  No votes include my State Rep. (Robyn Gabel) and other “local foods” legislators (Sonya Harper, Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, Kelly Cassidy). See all votes in House.

3. Ask Gov. Pritzker to start implementing the 2009 Local Food, Farms & Jobs Plan.
The Plan was designed to facilitate deep community conversations just like the one happening in Pembroke, but perhaps not yet with the right facilitation or proposals on the table. 

The ILFFJ Plan is an economic development plan that prioritizes farmer success, consumer access to healthy food, food & farm business success—all based on restoring the land. Perhaps a new cohort of the Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Council can be appointed, with expertise in community facilitation.

Or, as I’ve recently suggested to Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, perhaps the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council (GRAC) can take the lead on kickstarting implementation of the ILFFJ Plan. The ILFFJ Plan is a rural-urban-suburban initiative committed to Illinois feeding ourselves by helping Illinois farmers provide the food (and other farm products).

4. Remind other state officials, local officials, and Illinois voters about the ILFFJ Plan.
Emphasize the Plan’s commitment to subsidiarity, using more democratic processes for local communities to hash out just such a situation as Pembroke’s current stalemate. (For more ideas on democratic processes, see Section C: A Third Way?)

a.  Contact American Farmland Trust re AFT’s March 4, 2021 letter to Gov. Pritzker. 
In the letter AFT falsely asserts that Illinois farms “have yet to be identified as part of the state’s climate strategy”.

Illinois Stewardship Alliance’s Earth Day (April 22) action alert repeated this assertion: 
23 millions acres of prime Illinois farmland could be a giant carbon sink.
But farms – and farmers! – have yet to be identified as part of our state’s climate strategy.

Thirteen other Illinois organizations signed onto this untruth:
Illinois Environmental Council, Illinois Soybean Assn., Izaak Walton League of America, Openlands, Natural Resources Defense Council, Illinois Corn Growers Assn., Prairie Rivers Network, The Wetlands Initiative, The Conservation Fund, Illinois Soil & Water Conservation Districts, Delta Institute, Illinois Land Improvement Contractors Assn., Liberty Prairie Foundation

b. Ask AFT, ISA, and these 13 organizations to alert their members & email lists about
(1) the Pembroke pipeline project and SB2393. They should ask their members to tell their Illinois State Senators to vote NO on SB2393 — before April 30.

(2) the error in the April 22, 2021 “Urgent” email about farm-based climate plans in Illinois. It sounds to me like Illinois now has at least TWO farm-based climate action plans: 
—2009 Illinois Local Food, Farms & Jobs Plan
—2021 Pembroke Township/Field Museum sustainability plan

5. Ask the residents of Pembroke Township to see if 
— they would want to have a deeper, more democratic discussion on their economic development
— they would want such a discussion facilitated under the ILFFJ Plan 
— the Field Museum sustainability plan includes such facilitation

How to identify community priorities that satisfy everyone?

How to prioritize “race, poverty, farming, gas”, etc. when these all converge in one community, over one proposal? Is there a template for holding these discussions? This is how we can implement the ILFFJ Plan.

I strongly support Johari, the Carters, and other sustainable farmers in Pembroke Township. But I don’t live there. I also believe that the Pembroke Township residents who are in favor of the pipeline may be seeing some community need that can be satisfied in a third way that’s not yet been proposed — neither by pipeline only or regenerative agriculture only. Personally, I’ve witnessed too many “third way” breakthroughs in my 70 years (and have read about many others) to think there’s only two either/or answers to a given community problem. An example of the process is described by Emily Vogler in the latest New Farmers Almanac: Grand Land Plan (pp. 113-16): “Building Watershed Democracies”.

My default priority is always to real democracy — not just a vote, but real discussions, with rules agreed to ahead of time. Unfortunately, we in the U.S. don’t really know how democracy really works. But there are many people and groups working on better decision-making models. It would be great if the Illinois Local Food, Farms & Jobs Plan got kickstarted with real democracy.

Three models that I know about are:
—Participatory Budgeting (Particiatory Budgeting Project)
—Food Policy Councils (Food Policy Networks, Johns Hopkins U.)
—Hawai’i State Commission on the Status of Women: A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for COVID-19 (April 2020) “Building Bridges, not Walking on Backs”


The name of Johari Cole-Kweli’s farm in Pembroke Township is Iyabo Farms.

According to this Sept. 2008 article by Robert Themer, Iyabo is a Yoruba word — a language spoken primarily in southwestern Nigeria — meaning “Mother has returned” or “The Nurturer has returned”.

Let’s hope so.

UPDATE — May 19, 2021

It is likely that SB2393 Pembroke Twp-Natural Gas will be up for a vote on Friday (May 21). If the Illinois Senate approves it, it will be sent to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

Based on the recent amendments that have been added, it seems that the bill sponsors may have received a good amount of pushback on the bill, especially regarding (a) holding public meetings on the pipeline, and (b) the process of designating Pembroke Township as a “hardship area”. Here are some additional resources to consider.

1. EMAIL TO STATE SENATOR: Vote No on SB2393 — send email no later than May 20 (Thursday)
It is not too late to ask your State Senator to vote NO on this bill. Here is the email that I sent to my State Senator (Laura Fine):

From: Debbie Hillman
Subject: Please vote NO: SB2393 Pembroke Twp-Natural Gas
Date: April 29, 2021 at 5:45:39 PM CDT

Dear Senator Fine —
As a constituent in Evanston and a long-time activist on food, farms, and climate issues, I hope that you will be voting NO on SB2393 the Pembroke Township Natural Gas Investment Pilot Program Act.

It sounds to me like there has not been robust community conversations about this project or other alternatives explored for sustainable economic development:

— SENATE ENERGY COMMITTEE According to the Illinois Environmental Council and Blacks in Green, they were prevented from testifying against SB2393 by the Senate Energy Committee.

— FIELD MUSEUM SUSTAINABILITY PLAN According to a recent Sun-Times article, the Field Museum has been working with Pembroke farmers on a sustainability plan. Although it was presented to the community in March, the article made it sound like the plan is not yet complete. The guidance of Pembroke’s regenerative farmers on this plan (the Carters of Black Oaks Center, Johari Cole-Kweli of Iyabo Farms, and others) should be followed.

— ILLINOIS LOCAL FOOD, FARMS & JOBS PLAN Another option would be to facilitate a community conversation in Pembroke under the aegis of the Illinois Local Food, Farms & Jobs Plan (2009), written expressly to (a) maximize the potential of the Illinois food & farm economy, and (b) to do so through state support and facilitation of local projects.

This would be a great time for Gov. Pritzker to start implementing the ILFFJ Plan, possibly with the help of the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council (chaired by Lt. Gov. Stratton). Johari Cole-Kweli is familiar with the ILFFJ Plan because she was a member of the task force that wrote it (Illinois Local & Organic, Food & Farm Task Force). It was Evanston’s former State Rep. Julie Hamos who was the chief sponsor of the bill (Sen. Jacqueline Collins was the Senate sponsor).
Thank you.
— Debbie

2. WGN TV Story and Video (May 6, 2021)
VIDEO (6 mins.)
STORY by Gaynor Hall, Michael D’Angelo, Steve Scheuer
PEMBROKE TOWNSHIP, Ill. — While the national dialogue continues on racism and representation, there is a renewed push to help Black farmers flourish.

There are more than 70,000 farms in Illinois, but USDA DATA shows less than 200 principal operators are Black.

“We can’t have equity without the land,” Fred Carter, co-founder and executive director of the Black Oaks Center, said.

In 2009, Carter and his wife Dr. Jifunza Wright-Carter left their Beverly bungalow in Chicago and moved their family to Pembroke Township to carve out a low-carbon existence on 40 acres of land.

“Black farming is in what I call the intensive care unit,” Wright-Carter, co-founder and president of Black Oaks Center, said. “It’s in the process of being resuscitated.”

Five billion dollars in debt relief and support for socially disadvantaged farmers was included in President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 economic relief package.

In Illinois, a study on farm ownership disparities will be completed by the end of the year. Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton’s team will be looking at those results as they work on a two-year strategic plan to address equity in agriculture.

3. LINKS for Black Oaks Center
Black Oaks Center
Healthy Food Hub

4. Messaging from Environmental Justice group of Citizens Greener Evanston
This bill would provide a guaranteed contract to Nicor Gas to build natural gas infrastructure in Pembroke Township.  This area has been a historic and important home to many black farmers in Illinois (only 2% of Illinois farmers are black) who are concerned about how this will impact these important lands and community.  IEC and ICJC are supporting Blacks in Green and local community residents that are calling for an authentic community process with a review of all available options to residents (for example, Nicor gas, another provider, energy efficiency options or other technology, or other sources of power) as well as consumer protections.