local farm, small farm

Illinois Is the Latest State to Look Local for Food—but Is Local Better?

August 24, 2009 07:00 AM
by Haley A. Lovett
Farm-to-school and other local food programs are sprouting up across the U.S., as Illinois looks to local farms to boost the economy and fill vacant lots in Chicago.

Illinois Food to Go Local, Farms Move to the City

During the Illinois State Fair’s agriculture day, Governor Pat Quinn signed a law that would encourage more purchases of local food by government agencies to help struggling farmers.

Currently, only about 10 percent of the food eaten by Illinois residents comes from the state, nearly 80 percent of the state land is farmland, reports John O’Connor of the AP.

The new law would give preference to Illinois food producers in bids to sell to state agencies such as prisons and schools, even if the Illinois farmers prices are up to 10 percent higher than out-of-state competition, reports Kurt Erickson of the Herald & Review. This could result in higher costs for the state.

Other states, such as Oregon and Washington, have attempted to get more local food into schools in the past, but often lack of adequate funding to subsidize the cost of the food has presented the biggest challenge. The US Department of Agriculture is running test programs for Farm to School initiatives in four states and has found increased consumption of fruits and vegetables by the students in those programs.

One proponent of the bill told Erickson that the law could help allocate more of the vacant land in Chicago to the creation of urban farms, as has been done in other cities. Detroit, long plagued by vacant lots in the once-booming city, is now home to many urban gardens and farms.

Opinion & Analysis: Local food may boost local economy, but is it better for the environment?

Recently the debate over local farms has intensified. There is no question that the demand for fresh food from local, organic farms has grown due to the “green” movement and the rise in the number of farmers markets. In early 2009, findingDulcinea reported that the increase in demand for local food has changed the landscape of the farming industry, and although small farms had grown in number, medium-sized farms were struggling.

Part of the reason for the increase in demand for local food may be from a desire by consumers to protect the environment and avoid the environmental damage thought to be done by shipping food from far away. But critics suggest that perhaps local food isn’t all that environmentally friendly and that “local” food travels much more in smaller vehicles, which compared with large-scale transportation are less efficient and thus may do the same amount of eco damage.

Recent “meat wars” have also created a larger market for local meat products. With the U.S. responding to China’s recent bans on US meat by banning imports of some Chinese meats, local farmers may find that there is a greater demand for certain meat products, such as the chicken products no longer imported from China. But some think that the bans, while touted as being implemented for consumer safety, are really being put in place as acts of retaliation on prior bans.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines