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Local Food

Metropolitan Chicago's GO TO 2040 plan calls for us to strengthen our region's food systems. Watch the video below to learn about the importance of local food as it travels from the farm to the table. By producing more of the food we consume locally, we keep money in the region, support local businesses, strengthen our communities, and have delicious, fresh produce to eat. 

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Local Food: subsections

Policy and Planning

Municipal Strategies to Support Local Food: In September 2012, CMAP created a two-part guide to help local governments incorporate local food in their comprehensive plans and ordinances.

Educational brochure: CMAP created a short, educational local food brochure that summarizes many of the points made on this microsite. This brochure be printed and distributed as an educational outreach tool for those interested in supporting local food systems. An additional document provides references for the statistics cited in the brochure. (Note: To download PDF, right-click on link and select "save link as.")

GO TO 2040: The GO TO 2040 comprehensive regional plan includes a section "Promoting Sustainable Local Food," which provides a wealth of information and targeted strategies for supporting local food systems. The section can be downloaded in full here.

Local Progress

Kane County: Staff from Kane County and the Forest Preserve District of Kane County, along with Openlands and other partners, worked with CMAP to explore the potential for conversion of publicly owned land to local food production.  This LTA project resulted in an adaptable evaluation framework for Kane County and other units of local government to apply when interested in using their own public land to help meet the regional demand for locally grown food.

Lake County: Through its LTA program, CMAP worked with a group of nonprofit, public, and private partners throughout Lake County to explore potential for a more sustainable food system in the county. Learn more about this project, including final planning documents and reports. Recent successes that were partially the result of this work include:

  • Conserve Lake County, the Lake County Forest Preserve, and the Liberty Prairie Foundation have entered into a partnership whereby a local organic farmer will lease co-owned land at the Casey Farm in Libertyville.

More About Local Food

If local food production were increased in the seven counties of metropolitan Chicago, it could create over 5,000 jobs and generate $6.5 billion a year in economic activity. The demand is there. Over the last ten years, regional demand for local food has grown 260 percent, and recent surveys show that three-quarters of Americans care that their food is grown locally.

Metropolitan Chicago's GO TO 2040 plan calls for us to strengthen our region's food systems. By producing more of the food we consume locally, we keep money in the region, support local businesses, strengthen our communities, and have delicious, fresh produce to eat. GO TO 2040 recommends the region support sustainable local food through:

  • Greater sustainable local food production and processing.
  • Increased equitable access to fresh, nutritious, and affordable foods.
  • Greater awareness through data, research, training, and information to support local food systems.

A sustainable local food system is an economic network in which food production through consumption are tied to a geographic region, such as northeastern Illinois. Local food production is part of a diverse farm economy in our region that includes commodity crops like corn and soybeans as well as livestock. It is also an established national trend, driven in part by the growing number of restaurants, chefs, and national supermarkets that pride themselves on providing fresh, locally grown products, and the number of consumers who are asking for them.

Local food systems offer many economic, environmental, and quality-of-life benefits that apply to businesses, residents, and our region as a whole. As consumers, individuals benefit from having more opportunities to buy fresh produce to cook at home or eat at restaurants. Local entrepreneurs benefit from increased business opportunities. Our communities as a whole benefit from stronger, more diverse local economies where we grow and buy our food from a local farmer, which increases farm income and jobs and circulates money within our region and state, rather than sending it elsewhere. In fact, fruit and vegetable production has the potential to generate three to seven times more jobs and farm income than corn and soybean production. Highly valuing our rich agricultural land for its potential to feed us can also make preservation of existing farmland, as well as the rural character that some of our residents prefer, more economically viable.

The amount of agricultural land and the size of farms in northeastern Illinois are shrinking due to urban growth and development, but the number of smaller farming operations is on the rise. A shift towards food production could help address a number of challenges that our region's agricultural system faces. Commodity crop production typically requires large acreages and expensive inputs and equipment, presenting barriers to entry for most people interested in farming. Because over 90 percent of food consumed in Illinois is produced elsewhere, our food purchases support jobs and economies where the food is produced and processed remotely rather than in Illinois, where much of our food demand could be met. Without the use of sustainable farming practices, conventional agricultural operations can also affect soil health and environmental resources.

Fortunately, the Chicago metropolitan region and surrounding counties are well-positioned to meet the demand for local food because the majority of the direct-to-consumer supply comes from metropolitan areas and collar counties. Farms across the nation earned $1.1 billion from direct sales in 2007. By supporting and strengthening the local food system, northeastern Illinois is poised to tap into this economic potential.

CMAP elevated Local Food to one of twelve regional priorities in the GO TO 2040 comprehensive regional plan, and a number of counties and municipalities are beginning to prioritize and pursue local food polices. Challenges remain, however, and there is a significant role for local governments to provide support:

  • Provide access to land, facilities and infrastructure to give farmers, distributors, and food entrepreneurs a chance to become established.
  • Adopt or modify policies and standards to encourage local food operations and to reduce the cost and uncertainty of projects.
  • Encourage the market, innovation, businesses, and entrepreneurs through policies such as local food procurement targets for schools, workforce development opportunities, and hunger assistance programs.
  • Support and participate in a forum to discuss and address local food system issues, to coordinate policy initiatives, programs, and events, and to connect buyers and sellers.