July 11, 2011
By Paul Morello
Studies show food travels about 1,500 miles before it ends up on an Illinois plate. The state is trying to change that by encouraging consumers to buy more local food. They’re also working with farmers to distribute more locally.
“We have the Local Food Jobs Council, which was established last year,” says Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Tom Jennings. “Their duty is to identify how we can expand our markets and local foods. It’s very important to the Illinois economy, the regional economy and the local economy.”
Jennings spoke at a Local Food Summit today at the Illinois Farm Bureau. He says the state continues the “Illinois Products” and “Where Fresh Is” logo programs, which put free logos on locally produced products to denote that they were made in the state. He says the state also continues to lobby for the 2012 Farm Bill, which would ensure funds continue for agriculture initiatives.
Lt. Governor Sheila Simon also spoke at the conference. She tells WJBC, the economic stakes are high when it comes to selling and buying local food.
“We spend about $48 billion a year on our food. $46 billion of that goes out of state. It comes from somewhere else. We’re an incredibly agriculturally rich state. Let’s keep some of that $46 billion here, employing people here.”
One local food initiative trying to do just that is the Edible Economy Project, which is working to get Central Illinois farmers together to sell produce in bulk to institutions like Illinois State and State Farm. EEP board member Terra Brockman says there’s a marketing up side for schools that buy local.
“They want to be able to say to parents, ‘If your kids come to this school, we’re not just going to sell them high-fat, high-sugar processed foods.’ Now people are more aware of how important food quality is. Even if they only have a salad bar with local cherry tomatoes, that’s a selling point.”