Wes King, the director of Illinois Stewardship Alliance (and also a member of the ASAP board), enjoys his work a lot. Two weeks ago, I interviewed him about his involvement in the organization and their current projects.
Though the most visual part of the ISA’s work is their community outreach program “Buy Fresh, Buy Local,” most of their work is actually in educating farmers about cover crops (which you can read a fantastic article about here) and other methods of long-term conservation. They also consult and lobby for the Illinois Senate.
This past fall, Wes testified for the Illinois senate in favor of a proposed law that would require labeling of all genetically engineered foods in Illinois. Other projects include standardizing state laws for farmers’ markets, which are currently regulated on a county-by-county basis, as well as updating caps on food co-op memberships. The current laws, which cap member contributions at $500, have not been updated since 1915, and thus do not account for nearly a century’s worth of inflation. ISA proposes a new cap of $10,000.
Over the next year, Wes is excited about working on implementing the new Federal Food Safety Act in Illinois. The act is the first of its kind: a massive overhaul that will allow the FDA to supervise how farmers grow produce. Though he is optimistic about the law’s long-term effects, King recognizes that there will be some issues in making sure the regulations don’t crush smaller growers.
As a student and an activist, it was nice to get some perspective on the real impact that nonprofits can have, even at the state and local level. And as a farmers’ market patron and a co-op member, I was glad to hear about these efforts and their fruits (pun intended). Though most of the crops here are corn and soybeans, it also seems that there are more growers selling produce at Urbana’s Market at the Square every year, and it’s good to know that someone is looking out for both them and their customers. When we were wrapping up our interview, one of the things Wes said about the organization’s purpose really stuck out to me: “We need laws that work for farmers and the rest of us.” Regulations are a critical part of keeping our food safe and sustainable, and Wes and ISA want Illinois food to always be both.