Lt. Governor Stratton launches ‘Ag Connects Us All’ initiative
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) – Illinois Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton constantly speaks about the importance of agriculture in Illinois. The Chicago Democrat has worked with farmers across the state since taking office with Governor JB Pritzker in 2019.
In 2022, Stratton hopes to highlight opportunities in the agriculture industry to address inequality and food insecurity. The Stratton office has launched a statewide listening tour to hear from farmers and other stakeholders to understand the best strategies moving forward. They have already had discussions in Peoria, East St. Louis and Chicago.
She calls it the Ag Connects Us All initiative. You may see the #AgConnectsUsAll popup on social media.
“From rural to urban to suburban, ag is at the center,” Stratton said. “It’s our state’s largest industry, a driving force in our economy, and an integral part of the Illinois diet. All communities in our state deserve access to the bounty that Illinois produces.
February will include discussions on diversity and equity in agriculture. The lieutenant governor’s office notes that black farmers once owned 14% of the land in the United States. Black farmers now own about 1.3%. Stratton’s team wants to identify new funding opportunities for marginalized farmers and improve access to agricultural education. The administration would also like to see new pipelines for careers in the agriculture industry.
“Due to policies that for many years prevented people of color from having that connection to the land, we end up seeing fewer than 1,500 people of color owning farms in our state. It’s concerning. because it’s the number one industry in the state,” Stratton said. “It’s an opportunity to look back and address what happened that cut us off the ground. We can find ways to ensure that Black, Brown and Indigenous communities can be reconnected to the land.
Food insecurity will be at the center of the March listening sessions. Stratton pointed out that Illinois’ food insecurity has doubled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. She also noted that insecurity has tripled for families with children and increased by 60% among seniors across the state.
“We all know that food insecurity has been really exacerbated by this pandemic,” Stratton said. “I think all 102 counties have seen an increase in food insecurity where some families are having to go to food pantries for perhaps the first time.”
Stratton continued to fight for greater access to food as chairman of Pritzker’s Rural Affairs Council. This group works on projects to improve access to public services in rural areas of the state and the quality of life for residents of all walks of life. But the passion for the development of agriculture is not new.
In fact, Stratton was inspired by her great-grandfather, William Stephens, who received a plot of land shortly after being freed from slavery. This land grew into a large farming community now known as Stephensville, Miss.
“My ancestors recognized, as we do today, that by uplifting others and ensuring access to food and other basic needs, we can create a legacy of opportunity for generations to come. “, Stratton said.
The Lieutenant Governor hopes the listening sessions will help make Illinois’ agriculture industry as vibrant and diverse as the state. She explained that these discussions will include agricultural educators, business owners and other stakeholders who can provide their perspective on the future of agriculture.
Stratton’s office also created an advisory committee of agriculture experts to steer state leaders in the right direction.
“We’ve already been able to connect some of these people that we’ve met with some resources,” Stratton said. “Whether it’s state agencies or other resources that might exist, they frankly may not be aware of it. It’s about bringing people together and making sure we share information.
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