April 14, 2024

Bipartisan effort to support local food initiatives

State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, speaks at a news conference in support of a bill to create a permanent local food infrastructure grant program that would receive $2 million annually.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The announcement of the first Local Food Infrastructure Grant recipients on March 20 is part of multiple efforts pushed by local food system proponents and the legislators in their corner.

The Local Food Infrastructure Grants was a one-year program, but a push is underway to make it a permanent program.

State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, is a lead sponsor of Senate Bill 3077, which would create the permanent Local Food Infrastructure Grant Act.

Koehler’s bill would create a two-tiered grant system for both individual and collaborative projects. Individual projects may receive grants between $1,000 and $75,000, where collaborative projects may be awarded $1,000 up to $250,000.

These grants may be used toward production, grading and packaging equipment, as well as refrigerated trucks, milling equipment, local fish processing and milk processing, according to the proposed legislation

Koehler, along with state Sens. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, and Sally Turner, R-Beason, who are among the cosponsors of the new SB 3077, joined in the press conference announcing the grant recipients and noted the importance of supporting local food systems and addressing food insecurities in the state.

“The reason this is important is right now if you look at Illinois, 95% of our food is brought in from the outside. You know what that means for the environment and everything else when you have to truck food from thousands of miles away when we have the richest fertile farmland anywhere in the world right here,” Koehler said.

“This becomes a way of diversifying and taking advantage of the fertile soil that we have in this area, and I think this grant helps that because you have entrepreneurs that really have engaged in this.

“So, let’s make an investment into all those activities and make sure that people are able to be successful because that helps us all. That gives us a source of local food, fresh food, whether it’s farms to farmers markets, whether it’s farms to schools, whether it’s the farms to communities, that’s what this is all about and that’s why it’s so important.”

“The importance of local food infrastructure lies in resilience and sustainability. It reduces dependency on distant food sources, fosters community connections and supports local economies. Additionally, it can enhance food security and mitigate environmental impacts associated with long distance transportation,” Fowler said.

Grocery Act

Fowler was chief cosponsor of legislation that went into effect Jan. 1 that invests $20 million, creating the Grocery Initiative Act requiring the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to study food insecurity in urban and rural food deserts.

The new law, SB 850, further expands access to healthy foods in food deserts across the state by providing grants and technical assistance to independently owned for-profit grocery stores, as well as grocery stores owned and operated by local government units.

“SB 850 aids in the alleviation of food insecurities in Illinois, especially in my district, where there are some of the most impoverished areas in the state. I actually have one county within my district that does not have one single grocery store, and we’re doing everything we can to ensure they have access and a grocery store that they need,” Fowler said.

“The Local Food Infrastructure Grant Program is the segue needed to eradicate these food deserts. I am proud of the work being done by all of our local farmers and appreciate their efforts to ensure our nutritious foods are provided to the citizens of Illinois.

“I support the legislation being discussed today to make this program permanent and to make sure we put more money into getting local foods to more consumer plates.”

“Your stories reflect on how local foods matter. Where I come from, local foods meet the important needs of our communities and they need our support,” Turner said.

“I will continue to help promote the use of local foods in my district and continue to help small businesses. I support legislation promoting small businesses and efforts to make us put more money into local foods and onto consumers’ plates.”

Tom Doran

Tom C. Doran

Field Editor