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Thursday, March 14, 2013 05:44 pm

Legislation backs access to local food

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A state legislator is proposing a monthly Eat Local Buy Illinois Products Day to support local economies and healthier lifestyles.

Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Round Lake Beach, proposed legislation to designate the first Saturday of each month to increase awareness and sales of Illinois food and agribusiness products.

In conjunction with the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s “Where fresh is” program, a marketing campaign used to help identify and sell Illinois-grown produce, Yingling hopes to increase access to fresh and local food while stimulating the economy.

Illinois received $80,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support the “Where fresh is” program. Targeting 200 Illinois grocery stores and 100 Illinois farmers markets, produce suppliers will receive marketing materials including signage and product stickers to identify Illinois-grown produce.

If every household in Illinois dedicates $10 a week to buying local, that could create $2.4 billion in additional economic growth, Yingling said.

“If I just use $10 a week and commit it to buying these Illinois products, that can have a dramatic impact on the local economy, and the state economy,” he said.

Yingling added that the bill is not only good from an economic and health aspect, but it is also environmentally sound. He said shipping food across the country negatively impacts the environment. He said people never consider the resources it takes to ship produce compared to how little resources are used when they shop locally.

He said creating a brand or logo consumers can associate Illinois products with will create a bigger market for suppliers.

Jennifer Tirey, bureau chief of marketing and promotions for the Illinois Department of Agriculture, said additional money from grants through the USDA will be used for advertising campaigns in Springfield, Effingham, Mt. Vernon, Carbondale and Quincy. She said each city will air 30-second television commercials encouraging consumers to look for the local signs.

Tirey said previously consumers have not known where they can buy local products and now they will have legislation to make sure there is fresh local food in the grocery stores they already frequent.

She said eventually the program wants to expand from once-a-month to a weekly Buy Local Illinois Products day, potentially generating $565 million a year.

Tirey said the money from the grants will also be used at grocery stores and farmers markets that accept food stamps, allowing everyone to have access to fresh products from Illinois.

“You can use Link dollars on those fresh fruits and vegetables and farmers markets and grocery stores across the state,” she said. “I don’t think anyone has been left out.”

She said providing people with healthy ways to prepare food is an important part of the program. On Thursday evenings at the state fairgrounds during May through October members of the Illinois Products Farmers Market along with the Springfield Clinic focus on teaching families how to prepare meals. A dietician works with families and does live cooking demonstrations on how to utilize fresh fruits and vegetables.

Contact Jacqueline Muhammad at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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