Lt. Gov. Stratton launches ‘Ag Connects Us All’ initiative
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton consistently talks about the importance of agriculture in Illinois. The Chicago Democrat has worked with farmers across the state since taking office with Gov. J.B. Pritzker in 2019.
In 2022, Stratton hopes to highlight opportunities in the agriculture industry to address inequities and food insecurity. Stratton’s office has started a statewide listening tour to hear from farmers and other stakeholders to understand the best strategies to move forward. They have already held discussions in Peoria, East St. Louis, and Chicago.
She calls this the Ag Connects Us All initiative. You may see the #AgConnectsUsAll pop up more 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 feeding Illinois. All communities throughout our state deserve to have access to the bounty that Illinois produces.”
February will feature discussions about diversity and equity within agriculture. The lieutenant governor’s office notes that Black farmers once owned 14% of the land in the United States. Black farmers now own roughly 1.3%. Stratton’s team wants to identify new funding opportunities for marginalized farmers and improve access to agriculture education. The administration would also like to see new pipelines for careers in the agriculture industry.
“Because of policies for many years that kept people of color from having that connection to the land, we end up now seeing fewer than 1,500 people of color that own farms in our state. That’s concerning because it’s the state’s number one industry,” Stratton said. “This is an opportunity to look back and address what happened that disconnected us from the land. We can find ways to ensure Black, brown, and indigenous communities can be reconnected to the land.”
Food insecurity will be the main focus of the listening sessions in March. Stratton stressed that food insecurity for Illinoisans has doubled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. She also noted that the insecurity tripled for families with children and rose 60% among seniors across the state.
“We all know that food insecurity was really exacerbated by this pandemic,” Stratton said. “I think all 102 counties have seen an increase in food insecurity where we have some families have to go to food pantries for maybe the first time.”
Stratton has continued to fight for more access to food as chair of Pritzker’s Rural Affairs Council. That group works on projects to improve access to state services in rural areas of the state and quality of life for residents of all backgrounds. But the passion for agriculture development isn’t new.
In fact, Stratton was inspired by her great-grandfather, William Stephens, who received a plot of land shortly after he was freed from slavery. That land grew into a great farming community now known as Stephensville, Miss.
“My ancestors recognized as we do today that in 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 says she hopes the listening sessions can help make the Illinois agriculture industry as vibrant and diverse as the state. She explained those discussions will include agriculture educators, business owners, and other stakeholders who can give their perspective on the future of agriculture.
Stratton’s office also created an advisory committee made up of agriculture experts to point state leaders in the right direction.
“We’ve already been able to connect some of those people who we met with some resources,” Stratton said. “Whether it’s with state agencies or other resources that might exist, they quite frankly may not have known about them. This is all about bringing people together and making sure we share information.”
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