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updated: 10/15/2013 10:53 AM

Regional organizations advance local food recommendations

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Emily Weber

With the successful publication of the Lake County Sustainable Local Food Systems Report in June, a group of representatives from public and nonprofit organizations recently formed the Lake County Local Food Working Group to advance several of the report's recommendations.

The Lake County Local Food Working Group, co-chaired by Pat Carey, Lake County Board Commissioner, and Brad Leibov, President and CEO of the Liberty Prairie Foundation, was formed this summer to help carry the Lake County Sustainable Local Food Systems Report recommendations forward. Working group members consist of original project partners, which include representatives from Conserve Lake County, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), College of Lake County, Lake County, Lake County Forest Preserve District, Libertyville Township, Liberty Prairie Foundation, Openlands, and the recent addition of University of Illinois Extension.

The working group will convene quarterly over a period of 12 months to serve as a forum for project partners to address ongoing barriers to a sustainable local food system and identify opportunities to collaboratively implement the report's recommendations. Sustainable local food systems balance economic prosperity, environmental preservation, and public health while moving agricultural products from farmer to consumer. National, regional, and local trends indicate a shift in farming practices and consumer demand, as well as present an opportunity for Lake County to capitalize on this growing economic sector.

Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor said he is encouraged by the potential of a stronger local food system.

"The Lake County Board supports local food production and recognizes its many benefits, including building healthy communities and investing in our local economy," he said. "We are pleased to partner with the Local Food Working Group. Our work will help us advance this important initiative in Lake County."

According to CMAP, in Illinois, an estimated $46 billion (96 percent) of annual food expenditures, $14 billion of which consists of fruits and vegetables,
is spent on imported food. A significant portion of this demand could be produced in the state and region, yielding an estimated $2.5 billion in economic activity in the region and $10 billion in the state. And because money spent on locally grown food creates a multiplier effect, internally circulating dollars 1.4 to 2.6 times within the local economy, $10 billion in unmet local demand could accrue to $14 to $29 billion in increased economic activity within Illinois.

The Lake County Sustainable Local Food Systems Report resulted from more than 2 years of research and analysis by nonprofit, public, and private project partners via CMAP's Local Technical Assistance program, through which the agency provides planning and technical assistance to communities seeking to implement recommendations from the GO TO 2040 comprehensive regional plan. The project's primary objectives were to identify the key barriers to developing a sustainable local food system in Lake County and to propose recommendations for the County and local stakeholders to address those barriers. Report steering committee members reviewed Lake County regulations, surveyed stakeholders and examined food policy research. The report's major recommendations included improving long-term land access for sustainable local food farming, improving connections within the food system, and removing policy barriers impeding the growth of the local food sector.

Lake County is now considering new regulations that would allow residents in unincorporated areas of the county to keep bees, hens and hoophouses for local food farming. The proposed regulations include allowing: two beehives on residential lots of at least one-quarter acre, and one additional beehive for each additional 10,000 square feet of lot area; no more than six hens to be kept on residential lots of at least one-quarter acre; and hoophouses, 50 square feet in size for each 10,000 square feet of residential lot area.

Lake County will host a public hearing on the proposed regulations at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 17 at the Lake County Forest Preserve Independence Grove Visitor's Center at 16400 W. Buckley Rd. in Libertyville. Residents are encouraged to attend to help influence policies related to local food farming in Lake County.