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With Eye on Farmers Markets, Illinois Lawmakers Target Regulations

Rich Egger
Produce at the Macomb Farmers Market last summer.

A group of Illinois legislators is pushing an agenda intended to help farmers who sell at local markets. The legislation covers a variety of issues.

One bill would set uniform fees and sanitation requirements at farmers markets across the state.

Lindsay Record, director of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, said while more people are going to farmers markets, that's not translating into better business for farmers.

“We actually received reports from across the states from farmers that sales are down," Record said. "So people are there, but maybe they aren’t purchasing.”

One of the proposals would let farmers use coolers to keep food cold — rather than dragging a refrigerator to market. Another would ease regulations on the sale of raw or unprocessed milk.

Meanwhile, a lawmaker wants state government to track so-called food deserts. These are areas in which residents do not have ready access to fresh and healthy foods.

Representative Sonya Harper's (D-Chicago) district includes Englewood, a neighborhood notorious for violence. But she said the number one killer in her community relates to food.

“At the age of 35 years old, I am the eldest member of my family, because all of my loved ones have died prematurely from preventable, diet-related diseases, I believe because we’ve lived in a food desert for the past 40 years," Harper said.

Brian Mackey covers Illinois state government and politics from the WUIS Statehouse bureau. He was previously A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. He can be reached at (217) 206-6020.