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Second-term state representative Robyn Gabel of Evanston is lead sponsor of an urban composting bill, House Bill 2335, that is drawing out-of-state attention since last month’s passage in the Illinois House. Rep. Gabel says she plans to build on this success in her capacity as chair of the Human Services Committee.

Rep. Gabel said her daughter urged her to sponsor House Bill 2335, which is expected to win approval by the Senate and be signed by Gov. Pat Quinn.  If passed, the law would enable urban and suburban farms, schools and community gardens to make greater use of compostable materials.   Rep. Gabel said, “As we try to promote access to quality food in urban food deserts, a critical component is making sure the ground is fertile enough to yield an adequate amount of produce to make it worth the effort.”

The Illinois Environmental Council and Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA) provided advocacy support for HB 2335 and a companion measure (HB 3319) for on-farm composting operations mainly in rural Illinois. Organizations from Toronto and North Carolina have contacted proponents for tips on how to replicate composting laws.  

“An incremental legislative strategy has led to passage of about a dozen state local food laws in the last six years,” said ISA interim executive director Wes King.  “I’m excited about the potential of having created a foundation for a comprehensive policy agenda to realize the vision so many us have here in Illinois for a vibrant local food and farm system.” 

Legislative leadership began with Rep. Gabel’s predecessor in the 18th House seat—Julie Hamos, now director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.  In 2006, Evanston Food Policy Council’s Debbie Hillman led efforts to assemble a statewide coalition that persuaded then Rep. Hamos to sponsor a bill.  

The Illinois Food Farms and Jobs Act of 2007 established a task force.  Its 2009 report became the basis for a state law authorizing creation of the Illinois Local Food Farms and Jobs Council.

Rep. Gabel has agreed to convene a Human Services Committee hearing next month to explore how the state can leverage limited federal feeding program dollars (approximately $4 billion a year) to grow local food economies while reducing hunger and poverty. Findings will inform a subsequent hearing of the Senate Financial Institutions Committee chaired by Jacqueline Collins, who was lead Senate sponsor of both of Rep. Hamos’ 2007 and 2009 local food laws.

The Council intends to plan the hearings in partnership with three state entities – Commission to End Hunger, Commission on the Elimination of Poverty and Task Force on Social Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Enterprise.  The goal is to surface a strategy for a state policy framework encouraging more effective delivery of federal resources to address local needs.  

The legislative initiative will be on the agenda for the Council’s quarterly meeting on June 5 at the Illinois Department of Agriculture in Springfield.  Self-reliance could be the organizing principle for a policy agenda promoting neighborhood-based agriculture, community development, public health and the creation of jobs that can’t be outsourced.  

Rep. Gabel says she sees the hearings as an opportunity for the General Assembly to be proactive.  “Committees don’t just need to hear bills. We also can take the initiative in figuring out what state agencies do as well as to find creative approaches to improve the delivery of services for the people of Illinois.”

Mr. Heuer, an Evanston-based public policy and marketing consultant, serves as a gubernatorial appointee to the Council representing the Evanston/Skokie School District 65/202 Legislative Committee.