SPRINGFIELD – May 18, 2011. Lt. Governor Sheila Simon today unveiled the Governor’s revamped Rural Affairs Council, with a mission and membership that focuses on developing markets for local foods, improving emergency services in rural areas and other emerging rural issues.
“The Rural Affairs Council provides our rural neighbors with an outlet to strengthen the rural economy and increase the capacity and viability of rural areas,” said Simon, who chairs the Council. “I am excited to have more input from rural residents and farmers on the Council so we can best serve this community.”
Members of the Council, established by Governor’s executive order, serve on a voluntary basis and aim to improve the quality of life and access to state resources for rural residents throughout the state. Senate Bill 840, for example, would remove barriers to food entrepreneurship and allow for small family farms to more readily participate in local food markets. The Council will take an active role in the legislative process by reviewing applicable bills and voicing support for laws that would allow for greater opportunities for rural residents.
“Locally-grown, fresh food is becoming more prevalent, but I am working for it to become common practice,” Simon said. “Purchasing from and promoting local foods producers will not only lead us to healthier eating habits and lifestyles, but we can also boost our economy and create sustainable jobs.”
Under Simon’s leadership, the Council will also encourage compliance with the Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act in advance of its 2020 statutory requirement. The Act outlines thresholds for purchasing of local foods and food products such that state agencies are required to spend 20 percent of all food and food product expenditures on local foods. State-funded agencies that spend more than $25,000 on food annually are required to purchase 10 percent of their food or food products from local providers. An overall increase in local production, processing and purchasing by 20 percent would generate $20 billion to $30 billion of new, annual and sustainable economic activity in Illinois.
“Rural areas are becoming very important to consumers as a local source of fresh foods and to local farmers as an alternative marketing opportunity to improve farm sales,” Pat Stieren, Illinois Farmers’ Market Network Coordinator, said. “Policy makers are also very concerned about the limited availability of affordable, nutritious foods in low-income, sparsely-populated rural areas. The timing is right for government and the private sector to provide support and resources to local communities to help farmers and consumers in strengthening their economy and helping their communities.”
Council applications are available at www.appointments.illinois.gov and will be accepted on a rolling basis when positions are open. To fill the current vacancies, applications should be submitted by June 8. The next meeting of the Rural Affairs Council will be in July and more information will be available on the Lt. Governor’s website.
Lt. Governor Simon made the Rural Affairs announcement on the opening day of the Old Capitol Farmers’ Market in Springfield. The 12th season of the market will run on Adams Street from 2nd to 5th Streets on Wednesdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. until October 29.