Ambitious 'FARM Illinois' Could Put Kane County in Center of Global Food Hub

Ambitious ‘FARM Illinois’ Could Put Kane County in Center of Global Food Hub

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An ambitious new initiative fueled by Illinois’ top minds and led by a resident of Kane County is aiming to make this area the worldwide hub for food and agriculture.

Leland Strom, project director of the FARM Illinois told members of the Kane County Agriculture Committee in October that FARM Illinois is unlike any economic development effort that’s even been done before — and Kane County is poised to be a central part of the plan.

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 12.11.50 PM“I’ve never seen an enterprise like this in any state,” Strom said.

The plan plays to existing economic strengths and logistics advantages that Illinois already has over competitors in neighboring states and around the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Road Map for Illinois (FARM Illinois), we’re first in U.S. soybean production, second in U.S. corn production, fourth in hog inventory sales and first in processed food sales. Illinois is a leader in biotechnology and agroecology research and innovation.

Combine that with transportation, infrastructure, technology and educational might of the city of Chicago, and you’ve got a place where rural meets metro, where agriculture meets innovation.

What FARM Illinois aims to do is throw a spotlight on those strengths and use them to leverage a powerful economic punch.

Kane County Agriculture Committee Vice Chairman Mike Kenyon, a farmer by trade, said FARM Illinois couldn’t be more welcomed.

“This is a bright light. It’s cool (for Kane County) to be part of the center of the light,” Kenyon said. “Whether growing, packaging or selling, we can’t get along without food, and we can’t get along alone.”

The new plan shows Illinois and Chicago have the potential be a regional, national, and global hub for food and agriculture innovation and addressing global and local food insecurity by 2025.

The Food and Agriculture Road Map, released in May, outlines strategic recommendations that will set the national and international standard for how the food and agriculture system can improve health, contribute to the economy, create jobs, employ new technologies, preserve the environment, adapt to a changing climate, and help underserved communities.

In short, this is a very big deal.

Lead funding for the initiative was provided by the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, in collaboration with the Illinois Farm Bureau and with additional financial support from organizations and businesses around the state.

“FARM Illinois is the first coordinated, systemwide effort to bring together Illinois’ food, agriculture, and business networks,” said Dr. Robert Easter, president emeritus of University of Illinois and chairman of the FARM Illinois Leadership Council. “The FARM Illinois plan lays out a comprehensive set of recommendations that will position Illinois and Chicago as the epicenter of the global, national, regional, and local food and agriculture systems for generations to come.”

Among other recommendations, FARM Illinois calls for the establishment of the Illinois Council for Food and Agriculture to spearhead ongoing strategic development and implementation of FARM Illinois in the future.

Since September 2014, more than 150 stakeholders and experts contributed to a rigorous analysis of the region’s strengths and weaknesses and developed 23 strategic recommendations in 6 key areas:

  • Leadership for innovation: Develop an integrated, statewide, long-term, public-private strategy to increase coordination among agriculture and food system stakeholders, particularly between Chicago and statewide food and agriculture interests, and maximize existing resources in the industry.
  • Business development and entrepreneurship: Spur business growth and investment by making Illinois the preferred destination for food and agriculture companies of all sizes.

The council will develop performance measures to track and evaluate progress. An annual report will demonstrate achievements as well as indicate where additional effort is needed, ensuring the plan remains updated, vital, and relevant.

For Kane County, it doesn’t hurt that Strom is a resident. He said he was in a meeting with some pretty powerful Illinois officials and busienss leaders recently at the top of one of the city’s tallest buildings. He pointed west, over the skyline and explained in a nutshell why Farm Illinois has such promise.

“My home is right in the middle of Kane County,” he said, “where urban meets rural.”

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