Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Local Food, Farms and Jobs Act in Illinois

This past Tuesday, Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois signed the “Local Food, Farms and Jobs Act” into law. This law mandates that state agencies in the state of Illinois will be required to purchase at least 20% of their food from within the state by 2020 and that state-funded institutions, such as schools, have a 10% mandate. Moreover, when purchasing food, these state and state-sponsored agencies will have the power to pay a little more than the lowest bid if the food they are buying is produced locally.

The genesis of this law can be traced back to a report released in January by the Illinois Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force. This report stated that essentially, Illinoisans spend 48 billion dollars a year on food, but out of that only about 5% of that number is being spent within the state. The study by the Farm task force further states that by supporting smaller Illinois farmers, $30 billion new economic activity could be generated state-wide each year.

The advantages of this law are numerous. First, the environmental impact cannot be overstated. While 80% of Illinois is farmland, by importing most of their food, the average mileage traveled from farm to table for a vegetable in Illinois is 1500 miles. 1500 miles of shipping and refrigeration that can be avoided from buying from somebody in your backyard. Furthermore, smaller local farmers tend to be more diversified in their crop selection, which lessens the dependence on fossil fuel based fertilizers and pesticides.

Secondly, by granting permission to state agencies to purchase local food, the opportunity for children in the inner-cities of Illinois to have healthy choices in what they eat increases. Unfortunately for some children, food received from state aid is their only source of nourishment. Perhaps if the food is healthier, these children will have a chance at a better life.

While the environmental and moral reasons are obvious, the economic impact of this law is the major catalyst for its passage (isn’t that usually the case?). Creating a local food infrastructure creates jobs that cannot be outsourced. From the March 2009 report from the Illinois Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force:

“The business of creating and maintaining all the links in the local supply chain— aggregating, processing, packaging, storing, and transporting products— translates into jobs that cannot be outsourced. Right now, such a system doesn’t exist. There is not enough local food to meet the demand, nor enough farmers growing local food, nor companies in the business of processing local food. But there are too many food marketers disappointing their customers. This void is
what’s called opportunity.”

So there it is. We need to watch Illinois closely in the upcoming months to see how this all pans out. If all goes according to plan, Illinois can be a shining example of how environmental, moral, and economic imperatives do not have to be mutually exclusive. Worse comes to worst? Children get access to healthy local food. Sounds good to me.

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