Climate Change - Food Shocks and Food Insecurity
Illinois’ agricultural economy is an important one, generating nearly $20 billion dollars annually. Agriculture covers 75% of the state’s total land area with its more than 72,000 farms, most of which are owned by families or individuals. Of these, about 64% are devoted to crop production, mainly corn and soybeans.
But conventional farming is a major emitter of carbon that substantially contributes to climate change, threatening this sector of the state’s economy. Wetter winters and heavy spring floods erode nutrient rich farmland; pose challenges to farmers for spring planting; and disrupt the centralized agricultural supply chain, which is dependent on shipping by highway, river, and rail.
These challenges are followed by summer dry spells and heat waves, which affect both farmer yield and quality of product. Changed precipitation patterns also result in wetter fall seasons, making harvesting difficult.
All of this can lead to food shocks and food insecurity. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has exposed just how insecure our food system throughout Illinois really is, and climate change will only make things worse.
Regenerative Agriculture - A Just Response
Eco-Justice Collaborative is working with the Natural Climate Solutions Working Group of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition to addresses climate change and food insecurity in Illinois through regenerative agriculture. This working group will develop policy that will expand regenerative agriculture in Illinois to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; create carbon storage through healthy soils and land conservation; and improve community resilience through access to land, local food production and markets. They will focus their work in communities that are facing food insecurity due to climate change; the COVID-19 global pandemic; and systemic racism that creates barriers for wealth-building.
Key comments of their work together will include:
- Identifying gaps in policy by bringing together allies working on food policy, regenerative agriculture, and conservation, and adapting innovative policies from other states.
- Creating a Statewide Strategy for Soil Health with a long-term framework that sets a vision, goals and objectives for soil health and conservation Illinois, and provides actions to achieve its vision, goals and objectives, and methods to measure progress.
- Educating the public, farmers, and local officials about the importance of expanding regenerative agriculture as a climate solution, and how more sustainable practices can increase community resilience, particularly if paired with local production and job creation.
- Incentivizing local, healthy and culturally-appropriate food production through education and procurement.
- Exploring Opportunities for Land Access, either by ownership or lease, in economically disadvantaged communities in central and southern Illinois who face the greatest threats to food insecurity and would benefit most from local food production, local markets and wealth-building.
- Identifying funding to overcome barriers that can keep farmers from transitioning from conventional to regenerative agriculture and BIPOC from access to capital.
- Reducing sprawl and increase land conservation by connecting with local and regional organizations working to advance the intersection between agriculture and conservation as a way to protect farmland from sprawl; enhance environmental quality; increase wildlife habitat; protect open space; and preserve historic buildings and sites.
- Promoting Climate Victory Gardens to provide access to healthy food, and healthy soils by encouraging downstate communities to plant Climate Victory Gardens, inspired by WWI and WWII responses to foot shortages, when 20 million gardeners produced 40% of the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in the U.S. Focus on BIPOC communities and churches that can benefit most from opportunities that increase food security and build wealth.
- Reducing the use of fossil by moving from conventional farming to regenerative, localized food production. This will not only lower the use of fertilizers and pesticides; and reduce the need for refrigeration, packaging, and transportation to distant markets. In addition to helping scale up regenerative farming practices, encourage
- Reducing Food Waste and Increase Composting by working with the Illinois EPA and partnering with the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition to help create food diversion programs and composting operations. This can helps ease hunger, reduce the quantity of food that otherwise would be landfilled as waste, and connect composting operations to farmers practicing regenerative agriculture, thereby accelerating soil health.
- Supporting sustainable grazing livestock practices, helping farmers transition from concentrated animal feeding operations to sustainable practices by developing value chains and supportive policy.
- Creating sustainable livelihoods and economic development through meaningful collaboration between private and public partners at local, state, regional, and national levels.
- Adopting new legislation by determiningwhat new, or amended legislation could facilitate practices that build soil health and sequester carbon on farms and in community gardens, and whether such legislation would be supported by Governor Pritzker (who represents Illinois as a member of the U.S. Climate Alliance), the Soil and Water Conservation District, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Extension, Illinois Farm Bureau, the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee, the Senate Agriculture Committee, and others.