Buying Local and You

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Fuel prices are high, food prices are high,
and the costs of both continue to rise while
we look on, unable or unwilling to reconcile
a lifetime of relatively cheap food and
fuel with the current prices we’re seeing for
both. We might buy less. We might go
without some things we usually buy. A few
of us may find ourselves relying on external
sources—friends, family, food pantries—to make those food ends meet. Some of us
might start new vegetable gardens, or expand existing ones—a meaningful activity on
many levels—but it’s often framed as a temporary measure, a stopgap, something to do
until things get back to ‘normal.’ But this, the way things are, it’s the new normal.
The mainstream media, attempting to puzzle it all out by looking for easy solutions,
has hopped onto the latest in food “trends”—locally-sourced food. However, instead of
focusing on an array of reasons for buying local—the long-term environmental sustainability
of such food, its likely eventual necessity due to resource depletion, the benefits to
re-establishing the connection between people and their food that seems to have been
lost since the end of World War II, and its positive impact on local economies—the
emphasis appears to be purely on cost to consumers. “Why isn’t buying local cheaper?
Inquiring minds want to know.”
Last season, one local farmer spent over $24,000 in diesel fuel hauling his produce to
Urbana for its farmers’ market. That’s just fuel. Local farmers are paying significantly
more for seed, animal feed if they keep livestock, and other inputs to be able to bring
produce to local farmers’ markets. Most people would agree that our farmers should pay
their labor (and themselves) a living wage for farming these higher-quality, fresher, and
more varied foods, yet do not understand why the carrots or the tomatoes “cost so
much.” When you take government subsidies out of the picture and add an emphasis on
quality and freshness and ready access to everyone—the cost, quite simply, goes up.
Obviously, while the true cost of food to consumers is one issue that needs addressing
(though perhaps not in the way the mainstream media would like to address it), all these
ideas around sourcing food locally require considerable breaking down to provide real
The Illinois Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force, appointed by Governor
Blagojevich in late 2007 after the passage of the Illinois Food, Farm and Jobs Act, has
been charged with doing just that. On May 28, the Task Force convened a listening session
in downtown Urbana, one of several throughout the state, designed to find out what
local and regional eaters think about their food system – its successes, its failures, its realities,
and its possibilities. The Task Force will present their statewide findings to the General
Assembly this fall.
After remarks by Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing and a series of brief presentations by
Task Force Chair (and U of I professor/goat farmer) Dr. Wesley Jarrell and Task Force
members Debbie Hillman of the Evanston Food Policy Council and Jim Braun of the Illinois
Farmer-Consumer Coalition, the proceedings were turned over to the audience of
about 50, which included area farmers, young people, advocates for improving
school/institutional food, advocates for better emergency food, advocates for better food
access and education about food issues, and other concerned eaters. The conversation
lasted for over two hours.
Issues residents would like to see further addressed by the Task Force include:
• More involvement in creating a better farm bill;
• More involvement by municipalities and counties, rather than just the state, in the
direction of food policy;
• Developing labeling guidelines for food grown in Illinois and the methods used to
do so;
• More involvement in farm-to-institution initiatives (bringing better food to schools,
prisons, hospitals, and other institutions);
• Incentives for young people to farm (finding young people willing to farm is
becoming increasingly difficult – farmer Diane Moore said, “The hours are killing
our boys. They can’t wait to run away”;
• Incentives for farmers to switch production from commodities to “real” food
(instead of feed corn and soybeans, e.g., what about sweet corn and shell beans,
potatoes, orchards?);
• The proposed National Animal Identification System and how, if passed, it will
injure smaller livestock producers;
• Development of localized food processing, storage, and distribution networks to
ensure a more local food supply in the off-season;
• Development of feasible agritourism initiatives;
• The role resource depletion will play in food production and distribution.
Despite its “farmy” reputation, Illinois imports over 90% of its food from other places.
Most of Illinois’ farmland is used in the production of animal feed, food for processing,
and, increasingly, biofuels, which means that the vast majority of acreage used for farming
in Illinois is not used to grow food that feeds people directly, but is used by agribusiness
to grow commodities for sale on the world market.
Illinois would be unable to feed itself if it had to. In fact, the current nationwide food
production/distribution model ensures that the United States is well on the path to a similar
fate. “We’re going to wake up one morning and be a food-insecure nation,” said Triple
S Farm owner Stan Schutte.
Support your local growers, if you can.
Get involved:
The Task Force meetings are open to any and all who wish to attend. Please go to their
website at .
Other links of interest:
National Animal Identification System in Illinois:
Urbana’s Market at the Square:
Market at the Square’s blog:
The Greenhorns:
Community Food Security Coalition:

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