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Agriculture Connects Us All

All communities throughout our state deserve to have access to the bounty that Illinois produces, and we are taking steps in making Illinois Agriculture as vibrant and diverse as our state.

Ag Connects Us All: Agricultural Equity and Food Insecurity Initiative promotes educational and career pathways for underrepresented groups in Illinois’ $25-billion Agriculture industry, as well as expanding access to fresh, nutrient-dense, and culturally relevant food in communities. 

As part of Ag Connects Us All, the office initiated an 8-month listening tour to learn about common barriers and potential solutions from farmers, urban growers, students and administrators, staff at food banks and food hubs and other stakeholders engaging in the food system across the state. The initiative has aimed to connect Ag communities with state agencies and information on programs and resources that may impact their operations.

Convening and Connecting

The Ag Connects Us All Food Insecurity Lunch & Learn Summit and Equity in Farming Lunch & Learn Summit virtual events provide space for marginalized identities to learn from representatives in state agencies about the programs and pools of funding relevant to their work and ask questions. These events continue to help form connections within communities and to serve as an outlet for stakeholders to give critical feedback to state agencies on their programs’ impact and accessibility.

The Office of the Lieutenant Governor—in partnership with Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Specialty Growers, and the Illinois and the Illinois Department of Agriculture —created a special campaign entitled, “Cultivating Our Communities.” This initiative assists with promoting and uplifting small Illinois farms and businesses to show the rich bounty that Illinois Agriculture produces. The campaign highlights more than 50 farms in 38 counties across Illinois, many of which Lt. Governor Stratton has visited while traveling across the state. These visits also provided an opportunity to utilize the Lt. Governor’s social media channels as a platform to regularly shine a light on these businesses. 

Expanding Food Access

Ag Connects Us All has been utilized to push forward targeted efforts in communities that have been greatly disinvested—namely Cairo, Illinois, which has gone without a grocery store for seven years. Since the fall of 2021, the Lt. Governor has been involved in communications with the Illinois Innovation Network and the Institute of Rural Affairs focused on opening a cooperative grocery store in Cairo.

More than 3 million Illinois residents live in a food desert, having to travel more than a ½ mile in an urban community or ten miles in a rural community to reach a grocery store. Now, with the passage of Senate Bill 850, those living in food deserts will have expanded access to fresh, nutrient dense food. 

SB850 provides that the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity shall establish a Grocery initiative to expand access to healthy foods in food deserts in Illinois by aiding independently owned for-profit grocery stores, cooperative grocery stores, or not-for-profit grocery stores.

Since these dialogues began with the office of the Lt. Governor’s involvement, development of a cooperative grocery store in Cairo is underway and is set to open its doors in June 2023.

Student Hunger

The Ag Connects Us All initiative joined the Diversifying the Teacher Pipeline initiative, as student hunger and food insecurity were evident barriers to education. Allowing for students to talk about their experiences in education and being food insecure in tandem, provided a broader understanding of the issues being faced on campuses and acting as a catalyst for several efforts to address student hunger.