Lawmakers Support Local Food and Sustainable Agriculture in IllinoisJun 30, 2021 ● By Liz Moran Stelk
Photo credit Ann Chaney
Legislation headed to Governor J.B. Pritzker’s desk will make Illinois more delicious, reduce food waste and improve local farmers’ bottom lines. In May, the Home-to-Market Act passed with unanimous support in the general assembly.
The bill enables farmers like Ann Chaney, of Woodstock, to reach new customers. Chaney, who owns and operates Grace Farm Studios a three-acre vegetable farm and raspberry U-pick farm, sells a unique raspberry tea that she makes in her home kitchen from raspberries leaves and dried raspberries. She uses imperfect raspberries that customers haven’t picked and sells the tea at the Woodstock Farmers’ Market under Illinois’ Cottage Food Law, but she can’t sell those cottage food items in other places, like on her farm’s website.
Illinois is just one of three states in the nation that limits cottage food sales to farmers’ markets, with few exceptions. The Home-to-Market Act would expand sales avenues for certain non-potentially hazardous food produced in a home kitchen to include fairs, festivals, pick-up, delivery and shipping.
If signed by the governor, Chaney’s customers will be able to buy her raspberry tea online and at Woodstock’s annual Autumn Drive festival in October. “People from all over the Midwest come,” Chaney says. “I would like to be able to sell my jam and jelly during Autumn Drive to lots of people who are coming here, but who don’t normally come to my farm during the regular farm season.” With the proposed law change, small farms, women-owned businesses and low-income entrepreneurs will have the ability to grow their businesses and shoppers will have more options to buy local food.
The Home-to-Market Act is among a dozen legislative initiatives supported by Illinois Stewardship Alliance to expand local food and sustainable agriculture. The statewide nonprofit is an alliance of farmers and eaters that use their voices and choices to shape a more just and regenerative food system.
“I’m one of the farmers, and I talk with the eaters that they also have with the Alliance,” Chaney says. “We work things out—what’s the most efficient way to get from where we are now to the place where we want to be in the future.”
Members like Chaney use their voices to educate policymakers on the barriers and opportunities in agriculture. These are some results of the Alliance’s farmer-led, eater-powered campaigns.
Illinois is one step closer to building a new transparent and transformative procurement policy to grow our local food economy, with passage of the Good Food Task Force Resolution. The resolution creates a state task force that will begin exploring ways to shift millions of taxpayer dollars in state food procurement to more local, fair, healthy, humane and sustainable food businesses in our state.
Low-income families that use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will have twice the purchasing power when they buy fresh produce at farmers’ markets. Lawmakers appropriated $500,000 in the Healthy Local Food Incentives Fund that will enable farmers’ markets across the state to start or expand a SNAP Match program, providing a dollar-for-dollar match for fresh produce and ensuring more federal SNAP dollars support small farms and businesses.
Lawmakers also unanimously passed a resolution urging the state department of agriculture to study the effects and the types of land loss to Black farmers from post-slavery until today. It also calls for state support and capacity building for Black farming communities and a dedication to helping grow agriculture in rural, urban and suburban areas.
The Vegetable Garden Protection Act protects the rights of all Illinoisans to grow their own food, and prevents units of local government from enacting regulations that obstruct gardening on a person’s own property. Nicole Virgil, an Elmhurst resident, led the charge for the law change after the city effectively banned her greenhouse.
The state budget also included essential resources to support farmers implementing sustainable agriculture practices. Lawmakers extended the Partners for Conservation Program that provides funding and technical assistance to farmers to protect land and water quality, increased funding for county Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and doubled funding that rewards farmers for using cover crops. Illinois EPA also received the first dedicated funding of $1 million to implement the state’s Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy to reduce pollution from farm fertilizer.
Along with the Alliance, supporters of these initiatives, including Illinois Environmental Council, Institute for Justice, Chicago Food Policy Action Council and many other food and farm organizations have urged the governor to sign these bills.