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URBAN & SUBURBAN VOTERS: Right to Food, Right to Garden — Current Illinois Bill (2021)

Just like the Whole Earth Catalogue did for my generation of urban folks (Baby Boom), I think The New Farmer’s Almanac can help to reconnect urban & suburban people—70% of U.S. voters—with the land, earth cycles, and our own human cycles. So that collectively, we make better decisions—climate-wise and democracy-wise. This right to food, right to garden legislation will also make those connections. Originally published as an email to three U.S. food & farm listservs.

Vegetable Garden Protection Act
May apply to other urban & suburban communities
March 11, 2021

Regeneration Midwest (12-state coalition)
COMFOOD (Tufts U.)
Food Policy Networks (Johns Hopkins U.)

This email might be of interest to:
—Illinois voters who can take action in support of the Vegetable Garden Protection Act. This bill primarily supports residents where local governments have tried to prohibit food gardens, hoophouses, etc. I think this would most likely impact urban and suburban communities. The bill does not support commercial production.

—Residents in other U.S. communities who are facing similar restrictions, especially in these tough economic and food insecure times. The Illinois Right to Garden initiative (homeowner & legislators) has been working with a libertarian think tank, Institute for Justice. IJ’s main office is in Arlington, VA, but their National Food Freedom Initiative is, I believe, run out of the Chicago office (Clinic for Entrepreneurship at University of Chicago law school).

—Urban & suburban planners, officials, voters.

—Racial & sexual justice advocates. Of interest in this particular case is that the homeowner (Nicole Virgil) is a Black woman living in a mostly white suburb governed, of course, by patriarchal institutions. Through the five years that Nicole has been fighting her village board, she has chosen not to make this a racial or sexist issue (so far as I can tell). Nicole may be in agreement with the playbook of another Chicago colleague: Ten years ago, Ken Dunn (founder of the Resource Center) had this advice about dealing with government officials and other powerful people: “Trap them in their own decency.” It remains to be seen whether that works in this case. Fingers crossed. 

Details of the Illinois initiative are below.
Or see short Twitter thread.

I’d also like to add a timely note: The latest edition of The New Farmer’s Almanac (Volume V: Grand Land Plan) is out and available through your local bookstore or through The Greenhorns.  My own contribution (p. 375, Urban Soils, Urban Consciousness) deals with the importance of better educating urban and suburban Americans (both voters and officials) about soil, the fresh water cycle, the weather, where food comes from, where real wealth comes from, etc. Just like the Whole Earth Catalogue did for my generation of urban folks (Baby Boom), I think The New Farmer’s Almanac can help to reconnect urban & suburban people—70% of U.S. voters—with the land, with earth cycles, and our own human cycles. So that collectively, we make better  decisions.

Thanks to Mallory Krieger (The Land Connection, IL) and Jonathan Lundgren (agroecologist based in South Dakota) for providing some messaging for my essay (through the Regeneration Midwest listserv).

Right to Food, Right to Garden
March 10, 2021

The Justice Project (north suburban Chicago social justice group)
My state legislators (State Sen. Laura Fine, State Rep. Robyn Gabel)
North suburban “local food” folks
Other Illinois food & farm voters & organizations
Other Illinois eaters
Nicole Virgil (Elmhurst), Right to Garden

Hi, Justice Project, and all —
This seems a serendipitous moment in the world of Illinois “local foods” — otherwise known as food & farm justice.

—The Justice Project is holding a mobilizing event on March 14 in conjunction with suburban Cook County elections, featuring a co-founder of The Justice Project, State Rep. Denyse Wang Stonebeck (from Skokie area)

— A 5-year suburban (Elmhurst) justice saga — the Right to Garden — might be coming to a fruitful and happy conclusion, thanks to Illinois legislative sponsors, including Rep. Stoneback. Now Illinois voters can help. See bill details below.

— During the pandemic, more and more people are realizing the importance of local food infrastructure—home gardens, community gardens, local farms, farmers markets, farm-to-school, locally owned co-ops & other food businesses, food policy councils, food & farm plans, etc. In Illinois, thanks to former State Rep. Julie Hamos, we have had an Illinois food & farm plan since 2009. We just need to fund it and kickstart the coordination. Here’s the plan and the report: Local Food, Farms & Jobs: Growing the Illinois Economy (a very readable, scannable 48 pages).

— Recently I joined the Wild Onion Market a food co-op in process (Rogers Park, Evanston, West Ridge, etc.). One of their political values is: “Fresh, healthy food is a right, not a privilege.” Right to food? Right to garden? A no-brainer in my opinion. 

— If you need someone else’s opinion about the connection between food and access to land (place), watch this explanation of “Why the ‘Teach a man to fish’ Parable is a ‘mean spirited lie’  by Ed Whitfield, South Carolina activist (4.5 mins). 

— Finally, don’t get me started on local foods and the right to a stable climate. The connections are myriad and right under our noses (and feet).

Please share this email with your Illinois networks. 
(Other states might want to know about these bills, too.)

A big thanks to Nicole Virgil, the Elmhurst resident behind the Right to Garden initiative, for her efforts and stamina.

Here’s the details.

ILLINOIS “Vegetable Garden Protection Act”
Short & very readable

1. Illinois bills
— HB0633 official page
Chief sponsor: Sonya Harper (Chicago)
Assigned to Agriculture & Conservation Committee
— SB0170 official page
Chief sponsor: David Koehler (Peoria) — a long-time local foods advocate 

2. Actions for Illinois voters
a. Fill out witness slip for House committee hearing(follow Nicole’s directions or do it on the official bill page)
b. Ask your State Representative to sponsor HB0633
c. Ask your State Senator to sponsor SB0170
d. Share this email with other Illinois voters and organizations
e. Retweet my short (5) Twitter thread

3. Follow the official bill pages to see: 
— added sponsors
— latest actions
— hearing dates
— who filled out witness slips (for and against). This is like the “gossip” column of the legislative process. Proposed legislation always brings people out from the woodwork.

4. Additional links & background
a. Press release (Feb. 8, 2021) from Institute for Justice
New Illinois Bill would Protect Right to Garden
Evidently Nicole and the Illinois sponsors have been working with a libertarian think tank, Institute for Justice. IJ’s main office is in Virginia, but they have a Clinic for Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago law school. For the last 10 years or so, food entrepreneurship has been on IJ’s radar. 

I first met with IJ in 2010 or so when food trucks on Chicago streets were becoming more and more common—and more and more over-regulated. IJ’s Food Freedom Initiative was formalized in 2015. I see from their webpage that they’ve helped numerous food & farm initiatives around the country.

b. Right to Garden Flyer (Facebook or Twitter)
— what the bill will do
— what the bill will not do

5. Text of Illinois HB0633: Vegetable Garden Protection Act (as of March 11, 2021)
AN ACT concerning vegetable garden protection. 
Be it enacted by the People of the State of Illinois, represented in the General Assembly:
Section 1. Short title. This Act may be cited as the Garden Act.

Section 5. Purpose. The Act’s purpose is to encourage and protect the sustainable cultivation of fresh produce at all levels of production, including on residential property for personal consumption or non-commercial sharing.

Section 10. Vegetable garden defined. As used in this Act, the term “vegetable garden” means any plot of ground or elevated soil bed on residential property where vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers, pollinator plants, leafy greens, or other edible plants are cultivated.

Section 15. Right to cultivate vegetable gardens. Notwithstanding any other law, any person may cultivate vegetable gardens on their own property, or on the private property of another with the permission of the owner, in any county, municipality, or other political subdivision of this state.

Section 20. Home rule. A home rule unit may not regulate gardens in a manner inconsistent with this Act. This Section is a limitation under subsection (i) of Section 6 of Article VII of the Illinois Constitution on the concurrent exercise by home rule units of powers and functions exercised by the State.

Section 25. State and local regulation still permitted. Section 20 of this Act notwithstanding, this Act does not preclude the adoption of a regulation or local ordinance of general nature that does not specifically regulate vegetable gardens, including, but not limited to, regulations and ordinances relating to height, setback, water use, fertilizer use, or control of invasive or unlawful species, provided that any such regulation or ordinance does not have the effect of precluding vegetable gardens.