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Video + Personal Narrative

How I got into food-and-farm policy


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


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.