Moving Beyond the Fork: Governor-elect Bruce Rauner & Local Food?

What does Governor-elect Bruce Rauner’s victory mean for local food and sustainable farming in Illinois? That’s a good question and the same one a lot of different organizations and individuals are asking in general about the incoming Governor and what he will do once he takes the helm as Governor of Illinois.

Governor-elect Rauner managed to win election to Illinois’ highest office without saying much of anything in the way of specifics about what he would do in terms of the state’s budget and tax policies, let alone what he would do in regards to agriculture. Governor-elect Rauner is inheriting a mess when it comes to the state’s budget, job creation trends and tax policies - a mess for which there really are no good solutions or magic bullets.

Despite his many flaws Governor Pat Quinn and his administration were supportive of local food and sustainable agriculture and while we know very little about what Governor-elect Rauner is going to do to dig Illinois out of the financial hole we are in or what agriculture related policies he will pursue, some of the statements he made during the campaign trail are encouraging. As reported by AgriNews in September, at a candidate forum organized by the Illinois Farm Bureau during the campaign, then candidate Rauner expressed his desire to support increased agricultural diversification, agri-tourism efforts, farm-to-market, and fresh farm produce opportunities.

Governor-elect Rauner has rightfully asserted that job growth in Illinois is the key to solving our fiscal problems, let’s hope he recognizes the job creation potential of local food systems and sustainable farming. One of his first acts related to agriculture will be to appoint a new Director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture; this will be an important first indicator of what we can expect over the next 4 years. Will he appoint someone with a traditional narrow view of Illinois agriculture or will he appoint someone who understands and can represent all of Illinois agriculture - small farms, big farms, organic farms, diversified farms, commodity farms, ranchers, local food entrepreneurs, apiaries, vineyards and specialty crop farms?

Small towns and rural communities are struggling, let’s hope Governor-elect Rauner and whoever he appoints to direct the Department of Agriculture understands that local, regional and organic food sales are the fast growing sectors of the national food and farm economy and while the commodity export model is an important part of the Illinois Agriculture economy; local, regional and organic food sales offer tremendous potential to create jobs and help revitalize rural and urban communities alike.