Last week, I was invited to sit in on what I understood to be a meeting about gardening. It turned out to be so much more than that. The handout was titled “Food Systems Plan for Northeastern Illinois.” The meeting was the last in a series of meetings that were held to address the logistics of implementing a plan wherein Illinois produces its own food instead of importing. Not only does growing locally address the green issue of cutting out the cost of transportation and the negative impact on the environment, but it addresses the bigger issue of helping our own economy here in Illinois. $48 billion is spent annually by Illinois consumers on food, and the majority of that money is not retained by the state.
The task force was charged with getting feedback from different sectors of the food production community to see how to start instituting that plan. Things like what’s available to you today and what you would like to see in the future.
The food production community includes everyone from the backyard gardener growing a salad garden all the way up to the grocery store that sells you the washed and chopped bagged salad at the store:
the restaurants that buy from the farmer
the person who sells the seeds to the farmer or the gardener
the school that buys from the company that prepares the school meals with produce bought from the farmer.
The list goes on and on, and at every level there is the potential for employment.
Sitting in on the meeting was an eye opening experience for me. Healthy Southeast is the organization that is sponsoring my attendance at the BUGs meetings, but I had no idea there were so many gardening and gardening related organizations in Chicago.
I stopped in on a meeting yesterday that was given by Angelic Organics Learning Center. It was held at one of the Chicago Public Libraries and the hours were from 12:00 to 2:00. I didn’t quite understand why they had middle of the day hours where working folks couldn’t attend, but when I got there I totally understood.
The subject was starting seeds indoors and outside. The room was filled to capacity, and the majority of the participants were seniors. They were served a nice healthy buffet style lunch, everybody had something to say, and the presenter was one of the BUGs participants. The presenter did a very good job of conveying the information to the group, and they even had parting gifts of packages of seeds.
As a result of the series of meetings that were held on the Food Systems Plan for Northeastern Illinois, a 48-page report was generated and put before the Illinois Senate General Assembly. Dinah Ramirez of Healthy Southeast is in Washington now to attend meetings on the subject. She’s a registered nurse, and she’ll be speaking on the health benefits surrounding community gardens. And Gregory Bratton, the gardens coordinator for Healthy Southeast, has been invited to Springfield to sit in on Senate hearings on the subject. His philosphy is, “One answer to the food problem is in our own back yards.” Gregory has started a number of community gardens on the city’s southeast side, and the produce is used to feed many residents of the community.
At the end of the day, I think we all can be instrumental in helping our local economy and the global economy, and it can start as small as opening up a package of seeds.
Gregory Bratton was invited to recruit State Representatives to sponsor Bill 3990 which is Local Food, Farms and Jobs Act.