Illinois' Bold Bid to Reshape the Local Food Scene

I've become something of the go-to guy around Governing when it comes to food stories. I've written about street food carts, urban farm ...
by | September 29, 2009

I've become something of the go-to guy around Governing when it comes to food stories. I've written about street food carts, urban farm plots and the challenges governments face when they're trying to promote local food production and consumption.

But I missed this story out of Illinois, when the legislature this summer passed a law aimed at making it easier to find local food. From the Chicago Tribune :

The legislation establishes a council to develop a fresh farm and food system in the state, and it creates a system that allows buyers for state agencies to pay up to 10 percent above the lowest bid when purchasing locally grown foods. It also sets a goal for state-owned agencies to increase their purchase of locally grown foods each year so that 20 percent of their food purchase is spent on Illinois-grown foods by 2020.

Plenty of cities and states have set up "Buy Local" food councils, but Illinois' plan goes a lot further. Setting the 20 percent goal by 2020? Impressive. (I'll believe it when it happens, but an impressive goal nonetheless.)

The most progressive aspect of the bill, in my opinion, is the clause allowing agencies to pay 10 percent more for food that's grown locally. Right now, local food growers don't have the institutionalized economies of scale that larger producers do. So giving agencies the ability to pay a little more seems like it could go a long way toward really establishing a local-food system.

If you'll forgive a food pun, there's a lot of low-hanging fruit. Again, from the Trib:

Currently, an estimated 4 percent of the money Illinois residents spend on food each year is for products grown in the state, and just several hundred of the state's 76,000 farmers are producing for the local market, according to a task force report.

As Grist points out, that means that less than one percent of Illinois' farmers grow food to be eaten in Illinois (and I'm sure that would be true for most other states as well). You don't have to be a local-food advocate to think there's something a little wacky about that.

Zach Patton  |  Executive Editor
zpatton@governing.com  | 

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