Act would make locally grown food the law

Illinoisans spend $48 billion a year on food and most of that money goes to growers out of state. Now, lawmakers are looking to discover what they can do to create a healthy and lucrative food economy right here at home.

"If you start setting up society with the one goal in mind: to provide fresh, healthy food at affordable prices and accessible for everybody then we think that you have solved a lot of other problems," said Debbie Hillman.

Hillman is a self-proclaimed food activist. She started by working local farmers' markets and trying to educate her Evanston neighbors about food issues. She then helped convince her state rep, Julie Hamos, to sponsor legislation to expand the effort.

The result was the creation of a 32-member task force that has been meeting for the past year.

"Our job was to make policy and funding recommendations for Illinois to jumpstart a local farm and food economy. Ninety-five percent of our food comes from out of state and if we could grow it here, that means we could keep the money here," said Hamos.

Even though Illinois is largely an agricultural state, with some 27 million acres of farmland, most of what's grown here is corn and soybean that's used to feed animals or exported out of state.

"We've lost a lot of the vegetable and fruit producers and local meat and dairy producers that we used to have," said Wes Jarrell.

Jarrell teaches sustainable agriculture at the University of Illinois at Champaign and is chair of the task force. He says the group's findings are clear.

"We need a lot more farmers," said Jarrell. "We're gonna need a distribution system that can accumulate that product and distribute it and we're gonna need high quality people serving it and selling it."

ABC7 caught up with Jarrell, along with Jim Slama, president of, at the recent Family Farmed Expo. That event connects farmers from across the Midwest with local consumers. They say this event is a prime example of what it will take to encourage varied food production, boost local farms and create new jobs.

"The Food, Farms and Jobs Act -- our goal is to make Illinois a leader in local food production," said Slama.

The task force must submit its recommendations to state legislators by February 7. They hope lawmakers will act quickly to implement them.

Full text of Food, Farms and Jobs Act

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