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The modest meeting on food policy held at Lake Street Church on Nov. 21 belied what some might term a radical agenda – changing many aspects of Evanston’s food: its supply, distribution and consumption.

Convened by Evanston’s Food Policy Council, the meeting drew about 30 persons with ideas on ways to improve food and the food economy in Evanston and in Illinois. On the level of local activism, the group looked at expanding home, school and community gardens; teaching the arts of gardening and cooking to members of the community; improving the City’s economy with food-based businesses; and improving school lunches. The main statewide issue was to induce farmers to devote more of their land to growing produce and less to corn and soybeans.

Evanston’s Food Policy Council

Debbie Hillman, chair of Evanston’s Food Policy Council, said her group is already working on several outreach projects for the City’s West side.

“We’d like to expand the West End Market [located in the Evanston Township High School parking lot at Church Street and Dodge Avenue] to six days per week, perhaps with a mobile unit taking food to different parts of the West Side,” she said. Other projects planned for the Church/Dodge area are the cultivation of a garden at Boocoo Cultural Center, across the street from the market, to “teach ex-offenders how to grow food,” she said.

The garden project would dovetail with the Second Chance project of Evanston Community Development Corporation, under which five ex-offenders bought produce and sold it at the West End Market. “Two of the ex-offenders are back in prison; one is very enthusiastic and wants to continue,” Ms. Hillman said. Cooking classes would be a natural follow-up to the growing classes, she added.

The Food Policy Council also has aspirations for the schools, the business community and Northwestern University. FPC members would like to see the schools expand their nutrition-focused curricula; see the City and the business community foster markets that offer fresh, affordable food; and see Northwestern University, already a partner on some projects, develop or enhance hydroponics [water-based food].

Speakers and Conversations

Some of the speakers described the role of government in food policy; others had suggestions about improving food and policy.

Gaston Armour of the Illinois Department of Human Services spoke on the “resilient community.” Having a good food supply is one kind of resilience, he said, adding, “There is an urgency [to grow food locally]. We don’t have 3-5 days of food in reserve in our system.”

Jim Braun, coordinator of the Illinois Local & Organic Food & Farm Task Force, said he works to encourage farmers to devote more of their land to growing produce rather than grains.

He noted that millions of dollars are spent each year on food in Illinois. The state has “28 million acres of farmlands,” he said. “We have to grow the food we sell to our neighbors. … We have the land, the expertise, the climate – not the political will,” he said, adding that citizen action is needed: “Government is neither good nor bad – it is what we the citizens make it in the United States.”

State Representative Julie Hamos, now a candidate for Congress from the 10th District, said, “We are the beginning of a movement [to change food policy].”

Bill Stafford, chief financial officer of Evanston Township High School, described the challenges the high school faces in preparing more than 4,000 free or reduced-price lunches each day for students at ETHS and District 65. “We send 2,200 lunches to District 65 and [prepare] 2,000 lunches for [the high school]. Forty percent of these students eat free or reduced-price lunches. … This is probably the best meal they will have all day.” He added, “We get $1 per lunch – this does not cover it.”

Fortino Leon, president of Organization Latina de Evanston (OLE), said many Hispanic families and individuals in Evanston learned how to grow food in their native Mexico.

Here, he said, many would like to grow their own food but are still learning about the Evanston soil, markedly different from the soil in which they learned to grow food.

Evanstonian and physician Sarah Lovinger attended the meeting out of personal and professional interest. She is executive director of the Chicago Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “We work on toxic environments that are threats to human health,” she told the RoundTable, adding, “Lack of fresh food is one of those things.”

Several ideas mentioned at the meeting are already in the works; others have yet to come to fruition.

Food Policies, Practicalities and Possibilities

Homegrown Evanston,”” a meeting convened in November by the Evanston Food Policy Council covered many aspects of food production and consumption and suggested ways to transform Evanston’s food policies.

Among the topics were community gardening, food production and supplies, school lunches and nutrition.