This development in Illinois managed to pass somewhat under the radar, probably because it took place during the dog days of summer. But it's still a big deal -- Illinois has a new law that starts building the infrastructure for a real regional food system:
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.
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.
That last statistic is astonishing. Illinois has tens of thousands of farmers and only one half of one percent of them sell their products in their home state. The new law is all the more impressive when you realize that Illinois is second only to Iowa in corn production -- we're talking the heart of the Corn Belt here. It's quite a statement when a top agricultural commodity state has decided it's time to diversify its food production. And make no mistake, institutional buyers are exactly what growers need to have the confidence to give up their reliance on commodity crops, which they can always sell to the local grain elevator. Asking a farmer to grow something that he or she can't hope to sell isn't exactly a recipe for success. But what happens if they know the state will not only buy their produce, but pay a premium for it? I'm smelling a win-win here.
Photo by Daniel Schwen used under a CC license