‘Illinois setting the table’: Leaders recognize ag contributions

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CHICAGO — The importance of the agricultural industry in Illinois is obvious as the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all citizens.

“We recognize the importance of all the great work that has been done throughout the last six months by our agricultural industry, which is our No. 1 industry in Illinois,” said Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton. “There has been so much upheaval, but our ag and food industries have come together to make sure that our food supply chain remains strong.”

Everyone is connected by agriculture daily, Stratton said during a webinar organized by the Illinois Agri-Food Alliance.

“Illinois is setting the table,” she said. “Our farmers continue to be at the forefront of producing food that sustains the country while also driving our state’s economy.”

“The district I represent in the middle of Illinois is a unique district,” said state Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield. “I have a lot of great farmland in the four counties, and I also represent the north and east side of Springfield.”

Many issues span across the state of Illinois, Butler said.

“There is no greater issue than agriculture to bring us together from downtown Chicago to the southern tip of the state,” he said.

Butler learned about the importance of the agriculture industry as a young person.

“My parents owned a small manufacturing business that was largely dependent on agriculture since it provided hoses and coupling to John Deere and International Harvester,” he said. “Even though I’m not a farmer, our family benefited from the agricultural economy in Illinois.”

“We have some of the best farm ground in the world in Illinois and some of the best opportunities to get those products to the world because of the transportation and Chicago, which is the home of so many companies that provide processing in our state,” he said. “It really ties us all together.”

“I came into this work via politics when I worked for Congressman Rush for several years,” said Anton Seals Jr., lead steward for Grow Greater Englewood and marketing and business development co-chair for the Chicago Recovery Task Force.

“We did a lot of work about food deserts and what we knew then is still the case now, what people had access to were not healthy choices,” Seals said. “I’ve been in this sector for the last 15 years.”

“We’ve seen an intersection between food and health, in particular, around chronic health diseases that are plaguing our communities, which this pandemic has exposed,” Seals said.

“I think we need more dialog because there’s a lot of similarities and opportunities for us to build relationships across different communities, and food is one of those areas we’re able to listen to each other.”

Stratton is from the south side of Chicago, but has spent a lot of time in rural Illinois communities.

“One thing you learn very quickly as you travel the state is you see so many of the issues that are the same,” she said. “Yet there is the perspective that the city of Chicago is disconnected from the rest of the state.”

There are communities all across the state that are struggling with food insecurity, Stratton said.

“Eastern Illinois has some of the highest food insecurity, and it’s estimated one-seventh of the people in Cook County will experience food insecurity this year,” she said.

Stratton stressed the importance of eliminating barriers.

“One of the times you tell the best stories is when you’re breaking bread with one another,” she said. “We need to create spaces to break bread and share stories.”

“I think breaking bread and building relationships is critical,” Seals agreed. “Another part is making the kind of investments that are needed in terms of infrastructure, and I work with a group of farmers trying to regenerate urban spaces.”

“I don’t believe we think of agriculture, economic development and workforce training along the same avenues very much,” Butler said. “I think we need to do a better job of combining ag policy with workforce and economic development policies.”

“Right now is a tremendous time since everyone is paying attending to food because the economics driving choices families have to make,” Seals said. “There’s so many tracts, you don’t have to be a farmer because there’s all these other components that make up the growing side.”

“Creating economic development and combining that with broadband policy that helps drive good decisions for private investment is what we need to do,” Butler said. “We should work with a powerhouse like the University of Illinois to educate students to stay in Illinois and get in the ag-related fields.”

“People want a quality of life, and some of these things don’t have to be re-invented, they have to be prioritized,” Seals said. “Let’s get it together Illinois because there’s an opportunity for truth telling, reconciliation and healing that nature does every minute.”

“I love the big thinking we have, so let’s come back together and work together,” Stratton said. “We need public, private and community coming together to make sure food is sustainable.”

For more information about the Illinois Agri-Food Alliance, go to www.ilagrifood.org.

via | agrinews-pubs.com

October 8, 2020 at 09:16PM

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