SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Whether you live in rural Illinois or in one of the state’s urban areas, one thing unites all Illinoisans — food.
“Food connects us all, whether it’s at the dinner table or at the local market,” said Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, as she spoke to the members of the Illinois Pork Producers Association at the annual Illinois Pork Expo in Springfield.
Stratton addressed the members during their annual meeting.
Food is a common bond, and those who produce it can help bring together the urban and rural parts of the state, the 48th lieutenant governor told IPPA members.
“In so many ways, I consider you all to be such important unifiers of our state,” she said.
Stratton is the chair of the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council and has traveled throughout the state and met with farmers and the state’s farm groups, and she offered a glimpse of what she’s discovered on her travels.
“I know that agriculture, outside of being our state’s No. 1 industry and largest industry, agriculture is woven into the very fabric of who we are as Illinoisans,” she said.
Stratton said it is important that young people throughout the state have opportunities to have agricultural education and explore the job opportunities in agriculture.
“How do we make sure our young people are better educated? When we think about education, we have to think about agricultural education and making sure that young people, not only in our agricultural communities, understand and have access too and exposure to agricultural education,” she said.
With the governor’s budget address coming in March, Stratton said she is an advocate for ag education and for expanding opportunities.
“I would love to see programs like FFA be expanded so we could have more young people who are interested in this huge industry,” she said.
Stratton said that urban agriculture offers opportunities for urban residents and young people in urban areas to explore food production and related careers.
“I think the main message for young people, in many ways, is that it is never going to be just being on the farm. Although that is important and we have to continue to have a new generation of young people interested in farming, but there’s the business side of it, there’s marketing, there’s communications, there’s so many angles where people can be involved in agribusiness. We have to make sure that this is an industry that is open and welcoming,” she said.
Stratton recognized the IPPA for its female leadership in executive director Jennifer Tirey and Pam Janssen, the third woman to be IPPA president, whose term ended as she passed the gavel to Dale Weitekamp at the annual meeting.
“I am so glad to see, at the pork producers, for example, women who are the president and executive director of this organization. We have to open up pathways of opportunity for women and people of color to know that agriculture is an industry that is available and open to all,” Stratton said.