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LOCAL FOOD, FARMS & JOBS: The 2009 climate plan for Illinois farmers

DEDICATING THIS POST TO GASTON ARMOUR, a long-time staffperson at the Illinois Department of Human Services (now retired). Gaston saw climate disaster coming and did everything he could to emphasize “emergency preparedness” and “resiliency” to the Illinois Local & Organic Food & Farm Task Force (2008-09). He was not a task force member, but he attended many listening sessions. In hindsight, I think he pulled a lot of strings behind the scenes to get officials to focus on the multiple benefits of re-localizing our Illinois food & farm economy. 

On April 26, 2021 this blog was posted to four North American food & farm listservs:
— COMFOOD (Tufts University)
— Food Policy Networks (Johns Hopkins University)
— North American Food Systems Network (Cornell University)
— Regeneration Midwest (a 12-state coalition organized by Organic Consumers Assn.)

No need for blame, No need to reinvent the wheel

 ‘Who do we blame for not farming the way we now know we should?’ This is the title of Alan Guebert’s March  11, 2021 Farm & Food column, syndicated in numerous Midwestern newspapers from his Illinois home. He was writing about a topsoil study done by University of Massachusetts researchers and featured in a recent essay by Iowa native, Verlyn Klinkenborg (now a lecturer at Yale University). Klinkenborg’s essay was titled, How the Loss of Soil is Sacrificing America’s Natural Heritage.

The good news is that once we change direction and decide to farm the way “we should”, we don’t need to blame anyone. We just need to make a plan and commit to implementing the plan.

The really good news is that Illinois already has a plan— the Illinois Local Food, Farms & Jobs Plan — detailed and comprehensive enough to hit the ground running this summer (fiscal year 2021/22?). Since the plan was adopted in 2009, we may need to tweak a few things. But the plan is a rigorous roadmap and Illinois doesn’t need to reinvent that wheel.

The bad news is that not everyone knows about the 2009 plan. Hence it was not surprising when yesterday, Earth Day 2021, I received an email alert asking me to sign on to an American Farmland Trust letter to Governor Pritzker. The letter (signed by 15 Illinois organizations) asserted that Illinois farms “have yet to be identified as part of the state’s climate strategy.”

Here’s my response to the email alert that I received from Catherine Buntin. She and I co-founded the Evanston Food Policy Council in 2005.

April 22, 2021

Per the American Farmland Trust’s letter to Gov. Pritzker:
The basic assertion — that Illinois farms “have yet to be identified as part of the state’s climate strategy” — is 100% incorrect.

The 2007-10 initiative of the Illinois Local & Organic Food & Farm Task Force — better known as the Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Acts — is a comprehensive plan for re-localizing the Illinois food & farm system and for Illinois farmers to grow the food that Illinois consumers eat (and other farm products that Illinois people buy—soil amendments, fiber, ornamental plants, agri-tourism, cosmetics, renewable energy, etc.). Some of you may remember that it was Evanston’s State Rep. Julie Hamos who was the author and chief sponsor of the bill — the first time she ever testified before the Illinois House Agriculture & Conservation Committee.

Although the 48-page report, Local Food, Farms, and Jobs:  Growing the Illinois Economy, was written as an economic plan, the underlying imperative was (and is) to restore the soil, people, and communities and to redirect Illinois resources to long-term sustainability and resilience—to ensure long-term economic stability.

Looking at the report now — twelve years after we wrote it — I would say that Illinois was ahead of its time. The report was adopted by the Illinois General Assembly by a nearly unanimous vote except one (and that “no” vote was a technicality) and signed into law publicly by Gov. Pat Quinn at the Illinois State Fair (in August 2009). 

The only section that I would rewrite would be the section on Finance (pp. 29-32) because we now know that there are better funding mechanisms, such as creating a State of Illinois public bank. If anyone is interested, I recently testified (in writing) about public banking to the Illinois General Assembly. Here is the link: PUBLIC BANKING: Testimony to Illinois General Assembly Committee (March 2021). I was invited to testify by the Assistant Counsel (David Klein-Rodick) to the new Speaker of the House, based on my ten years of volunteer work with the Public Banking Institute. (I am not an expert on finance, but I do recognize real democracy when I see it.)

Feel free to share this email with anyone in your Illinois networks (and other states). There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. The Illinois Local Food, Farms & Jobs Plan (as outlined in our report) is comprehensive and detailed, but very readable.

PS  Probably the list of “diversified farm products” for Illinois farmers (on p. 23 of our report) needs to be updated to include cannabis. That was something we didn’t foresee.


Urge Gov. Pritzker to include farmers in our climate change fight’ PLUS
Let him know about the Illinois Local Food, Farms & Jobs Plan
If anyone wants to sign on to AFT’s letter to Gov. Pritzker, there is room to add a comment.
Or send your own letter to the Governor, your state legislators (Representative and Senator), your own Illinois networks.

Let Gov. Pritzker (and everyone else) know that:
— You agree with AFT (and 14 other organizations) that Illinois farms and farmers can be a major part of the effort to (a) reduce Illinois’s emissions, and (b) revitalize Illinois’s economy, water, and soil
— Maybe, per Illinois’s 10-year loss of population, restoring Illinois’s land base and fresh water will entice Illinois people to stay and/or new people to find a stable home in Illinois in the North American heartland
— Illinois already has a climate plan to accomplish this — the 2009 Illinois Local Food, Farms & Jobs Plan
— The ILFFJ Plan was written by a farmer-consumer coalition from all parts of Illinois — rural, suburban, urban  


It would be great if Gov. Pritzker’s office reviewed the Illinois Local Food, Farms and Jobs Plan and used it as a starting point. A lot of time, public money, and effort would be saved by using the ILFFJ plan as the foundation. Here are some suggestions for immediate next steps that the Governor’s office could take.

1. Task Force Members
Contact the members of the 2008-09 Illinois Local & Organic Food & Farm Task Force. I would imagine that other members of the Task Force would be pleased to be re-engaged and to share more of the history of the Local Food, Farms and Jobs Plan. They, in turn, could re-engage with their communities (where 18 listening sessions took place).

Some of the 32 Task Force members (and many active supporters) are no longer with us. I can think of at least half a dozen who have passed on, both Task Force members and regular attendees at Task Force meetings. A few others have moved out of state. But I believe most are still Illinois residents and still active. In fact, up until December 2020, when Yahoo closed all of its groups, many were still mutually engaged through the Illinois Local Food & Farms Coalition listserv, founded in 2007 to support the IFFJA initiative.

2. Local Food Legislators
Although State Rep. Julie Hamos is no longer in office, I believe the Senate sponsor of the ILFFJ Plan, Sen. Jacqueline Collins, still is, as are other strong advocates of the plan and/or local foods (Rep. Sonya Harper, Sen. David Koehler, etc.). These legislators should be recognized for their vision and effort on behalf of all Illinois residents and communities.

3. Update the Plan
In addition to rewriting the finance section, there are other tweaks that could be made. 

a. The original plan had three goals for 2020. The first thing to do would be to evaluate whether Illinois has met those goals.
—State institution food procurement policies: increase local purchase to 20% of total
—Programs to recruit & train 20,000 Illinois residents (5,000 farmers, 12,500 farm laborers, 2500 infrastructure entrepreneurs)
—Increase purchase of local Illinois food by Illinois consumers to 10% of total food dollars 

b. Establish new goals for 2025, 2030?

c. AFT’s letter to Gov. Pritzker has some very good, very specific suggestions (re cover crops, no-till, etc.).

d. Another tweak that would be needed is to review the farm-to-institution section. Last year (2020), Real Food Generation released a 50+ page report, Be-trayed: How kickbacks in the cafeteria industry harm our communities—and what to do about it.  

We in Illinois have known about this corruption going back at least to 2009-11 Northwestern University Master’s program studying the Illinois school food system (Learning & Organizational Change, School of Education & Social Policy). But it took a more concentrated initiative to expose the details. The Real Food Generation’s press release is worth reading. 

e. Review the ILFFJ Plan’s list of “diversified crops” that Illinois land and farmers can produce (see pp. 23-4). E.g., add:
— Cannabis
— Soil & land certifications: USDA Organic, Biodynamic, Real Organic, etc.

f. Contact Indigenous residents of Illinois and ask if they’d be willing to share their climate and land wisdom.

g. Because the State of Illinois is negatively impacted by so many policies at the federal level, Illinois residents and officials (through the Local Food, Farms & Jobs Council and other state entities) should identify obstacles at the federal level to re-localizing our food & farm economy. Such obstacles include:
–Legal counterfeiting by commercial banks. Solution: nationalize the Federal Reserve, create U.S. Money as our national currency. Template: Dennis Kucinich’s 2012 NEED Act
–Contradictions in the USDA National Organic Program (hydroponics, CAFOs)
–Remove racism, sexism, white supremacy from U.S. Constitution
–Add to U.S. Constitution: sunset clause, women’s public authority, rights of nature, funded sovereignty (basic income for all voters)
—Stop using GDP as a metric for economic progress. Alternatives: GPI — Genuine Progress Indicator, Social Wealth Index, etc. 

h. Perhaps other Illinois voters (and voters-in-training) have some other quick tweaks (including the 15 Illinois organizations who signed the letter to the Governor).

Then we’re good to go.
Action time!