fresh produce

SPRINGFIELD – Members of the Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus are working to increase food accessibility in both the community and schools.

State Senators Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) and Doris Turner (D-Springfield) are fighting for legislation to bolster local food economies and uplift farmers, all while tackling food deserts.

“Continuing our commitment to address food deserts across the state, it’s important that we allow farmer-owned grocery stores and markets to receive grants,” said Turner. “Everyone deserves access to fresh, nutritious foods no matter where they live. With this initiative, we can ensure our communities have access to food, while boosting our local economies and prioritizing our farmers.”

Senate Bill 3219 – led by Turner – would expand on the 2023 Illinois Grocery Initiative by allowing the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to provide grants for equipment upgrades for farmer-owned grocery stores or markets. Currently, DCEO provides these grants to existing independently owned for-profit grocery stores, cooperative grocery stores or not-for-profit grocery stores.

“By incentivizing the growth and collaboration of local food providers, we're not just investing in infrastructure – we are investing in a healthier Illinois,” said Koehler. “This program represents a strategic investment in our communities, reinforcing our commitment to a sustainable and thriving future for everyone."

Koehler is spearheading the Local Food Infrastructure Grant Act, which would be created through Senate Bill 3077. This measure would require the Illinois Department of Agriculture to amplify local food processing, collection and distribution within the state through grants. Eligible applicants would include farms, co-ops, process facilities, food businesses and hubs with fewer than 50 employees, as well as Illinois nonprofit organizations and local governments.

Meanwhile, State Senators Christopher Belt (D-Swansea) and Laura Ellman (D-Naperville) are leading the charge to ensure no student goes without access to a healthy meal.

Senate Bill 2209 would establish a grant program offering up to $7,500 per school site to initiate Breakfast After the Bell programs, which provide breakfast to children after the instructional day has officially begun.

“It has been proven that kids who eat breakfast in the morning typically have significantly higher scores in math, spelling and reading compared to those who don’t,” said Belt. “Eating a sufficient breakfast is essential for students to perform well and have the energy to get through the day. With more Breakfast After the Bell programs, we are setting students up for better success.”

Expanding upon Belt’s measure, Senate Bill 1931 would provide free breakfast and lunch to all Illinois students attending public and private K-12 schools.

“All students need balanced meals to nourish their learning capabilities and improve their overall mental performance throughout the school day,” said Ellman. “This vital investment strengthens a program that allows students to focus on their studies rather than if their family can afford their next meal.” 

Members of the Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus will work with their colleagues and stakeholders over the coming months in hope of passing the measures.