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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.

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. 

The Farm to Food Bank program, which was piloted in partnership between the Illinois Farm Bureau and Feeding Illinois, provides funding for Illinois farmers to sell fruits, vegetables and proteins to food banks and food depositories to ensure all Illinoisans have access to fresh, nutrient-dense food. 

Lt. Governor Stratton strongly supported Senate Bill 850 (SB 850) which created the Illinois Grocery Initiative, a companion bill to Governor JB Pritzker’s $20 million budget appropriation for community-based grocery stores. SB 850 allows State-granted funding to support independent, not-for-profit, and co-op grocery stores as they locate and expand in food deserts, or proactively prevent a food desert.

In support of the mission to expand opportunities in agriculture and food access across the state, Ag Connects Us All has been utilized to push forward targeted efforts in communities that have been greatly disinvested. Cairo, Illinois, became a target for support as the area had gone without a grocery store for seven years. Beginning in the fall of 2021, Lt. Governor Stratton worked with the Illinois Innovation Network and the Institute of Rural Affairs to support opening a cooperative (co-op) grocery store in the area. In June 2023, the Rise Community Market, a co-op grocery store, opened its doors in Cairo.

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.