From WILL - The Public Square -

Lisa Bralts on local, sustainable agriculture

My name is Lisa Bralts. I'm an economic development specialist for the City of Urbana, and Director of Urbana's Market at the Square, the area's largest and most diverse farmers' market.

In August 2007, the Illinois General Assembly enacted the Illinois Food, Farm and Jobs Act. This legislation was crafted after a report from Sustain USA, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and the United States Department of Agriculture's Federal State Marketing Program revealed many fissures in Illinois' food system - the ways and means of getting food from producers to consumers.

Drawing the conclusion that a plan for developing local food systems within the state would help enhance access to fresh, local food for citizens and stimulate economic development in both rural and urban communities, the Act called for the appointment of a Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force to direct this work. The Governor appointed the Task Force members in early 2008.

The Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force and the planned planning process represent an unprecedented opportunity to secure state and federal resources to build the infrastructure to support an Illinois local and organic food system. There is presently little government support for local and organic food production in Illinois, despite an existing market of nearly 13,000,000 people. More than 90 percent of food currently consumed in Illinois is imported from outside the state. In addition, research indicates that while the Illinois organic food market exceeds $500 million in annual sales, 95 percent of this food is imported from out-of-state. A visionary and practical plan developed by the Task Force will create impetus for the Illinois General Assembly to make major investments in areas such as farmland preservation, farmer training, processing, storage, distribution infrastructure and more. The Task Force is also charged with addressing the many "food deserts" in the state, both rural and urban, where people do not have sufficient access to fresh food.

A large part of developing this plan revolves around "listening sessions" facilitated by Task Force members throughout the state. Over 10 sites in Illinois have been selected as host sites for listening sessions. The format for each session at each site is different, but one aspect remains constant - stakeholder participation is crucial. And since everyone eats, everyone is a stakeholder.

A listening session for east central Illinois will take place Wednesday, May 28 at the Urbana Civic Center at 108 E. Water St. in downtown Urbana from 7-9 PM, featuring remarks from Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing and stakeholder participation facilitated by Task Force members Debbie Hillman and Jim Braun. This event is free and open to the public; please contact Lisa Bralts at 384-2319 for more information.

Even if you cannot attend the listening session on the 28th - and we'd love to see you there - please remember that you can easily support sustainable agriculture and local food by shopping at Market at the Square Saturday mornings through November 8 from 7 AM - noon - visit www.city.urbana.il.us/market or call 384-2319 for more information.