Historic Illinois Legislation

Historic Illinois Legislation

June 7, 2008 Michael R. Dimock

On June 7th, the Illinois Legislature passed a history-making bill, HB 1300, entitled the Food, Farms and Jobs Act, which creates the Illinois Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force and empowers that body to deliver by the fall of 2008 the Illinois Local and Organic Food and Farm Plan.

The great language of the bill, much of it crafted by the primary sponsor Representative Julie Hamos, and a coalition of leaders, including Jim Braun, a former Iowa hog farmer gone political, brought big agriculture, small agriculture, and food security advocate’s together. The bill’s thrust is economic development: job creation, rural revitalization and import substitution (replacing California’s produce with that grown in Illinois). The concept of eliminating food deserts helped to bring support from the urban, liberal legislators; the concept of local and valuable markets brought the south-state conservative agricultural legislators. The entire State Senate and all but 1 State House member (who was absent) voted yes on the final bill!

With the inspiration and participation of Diana Donlan from the William Zimmerman Foundation, our untiring ally over the years, I met with Jim Slama, an originator of the Illinois concept. Jim is the founder of familyfarmed.org and the familyfarmed.org Organic Expo, which happens in Chicago each spring.

I think Illinois’s urban-rural coalition has provided a powerful story and a potential model for our work here in California with the forces we need to align in the period ahead. So my thanks go out to Diana for bringing Jim to our very door to hear about this great success.

I invite all of us to have a look at this important piece of legislation. I provide the link to the bill by clicking here .

The ROC Community must now consider how it might leverage the success in Illinois. The context is different in California. Three or four Farm Bill commodity programs drive most agriculture in Illinois and right now the push to biofuel production means $4 per bushel corn is making all involved very happy. We are a specialty crop state with hundreds of producers, social justice, and environmental groups. And the good news is that, according to Jim Slama, our network development, reflected in the nine working groups around the state is actually more robust than theirs is in Illinois. So now our challenge is to discover how the Illinois Bill could be used to inspire our own Governor and Legislature to head down a similar path.