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Local food gets toehold in central Illinois

By Kathryn Rem ([email protected])

Article from The State Journal-Register

Selling a peach at a farmers market yields the grower a few cents and gives the shopper a locally grown piece of fruit at the peak of perfection.

But there’s a ripening movement in Springfield — one with political overtones – to forge bigger markets for the small-time farmer. The goal is to get locally grown and processed foods into the mouths of the masses.

“Local food production is a major economic engine,” said Deanna Glosser, head of Slow Food Springfield, a group devoted to good-tasting food produced in an environmentally friendly manner.

Illinoisans spend $48 billion on food annually, but only about 5 percent of it is spent on products grown and processed within the state’s borders. Local food activists want to boost that percentage dramatically and believe one way to do so is to make sure public policies advance the growing, selling, safety, marketing, access, distribution, preparation and serving of locally produced foods.

“The first thing we have to do is a community assessment of our food system. We have very strong farmers markets, but there are other things to look at,” said Glosser.

To that end, Glosser’s group has joined with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Buy Fresh Buy Local -- Central Illinois, Food Not Lawns Springfield and the Illinois Environmental Council to create the Springfield Local Food Task Force.

“We felt we needed a picture of what the local food system is now. We all agreed it should include community representatives and public officials,” said Lindsay Record, executive director of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance (which recently relocated to Springfield from Rochester). The task force, which will meet monthly, wants to involve hospitals, government agencies, churches, schools, food pantries, environmentalists and planners.

In about a year, the group expects to issue a report with recommendations for improving and strengthening the local food system.

Topics the task force may examine include:

  • Farm-to-school programs. These can include everything from gardening on school property and teaching farm curriculum to helping kids cook and serving local foods in school lunchrooms.
  • Local food procurement. Is it possible for the food-service operations of schools, hospitals, jails and other institutions to serve more local foods?
  • Urban agriculture. Can zoning and other barriers be erased to benefit farmers within city limits?
  • Access to fresh food. Lower-income areas of cities where residents have little access to fresh food are known as “food deserts.” The task force will look at transportation and access.
  • Economy. Buying from local growers keeps money in the community, where it circulates up to eight times.
  • Environment. Locally produced foods require fewer fossil fuels, both in production and transportation.

“I’d love to see an east-side farmers market that accepts food stamps,” said Carey Smith Moorman, who heads Food Not Lawns Springfield. “Another thing is community gardens in every area of the city. Maybe the county jail should have to buy ‘x’ amount of local food in season.”

Glosser has been appointed to a Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission study group working on a 20-year regional comprehensive plan. She wants the local food system to be factored into the plan.

Norm Sims, the commission’s executive director, said food policy does “fit a niche” in some of the areas being studied, but is uncertain at these early stages where it might rank.

Work on the plan — titled the Sangamon Regional Comprehensive Plan Project but informally called the “2030 plan,” – started four months ago. Study groups are assessing transportation, the environment, housing, culture, land use and other areas as a prelude to developing strategies.

The Springfield Local Food Task Force recommendations may lead to formation of a food policy council, a more formal body that would work on implementing changes.

Kathryn Rem can be reached at 788-1520.

 

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