Lawmakers make community gardening easier

Illinois Capitol News

ILLINOIS (WCIA) — If your neighborhood grocery store closed this year, you’re not alone. People in Decatur, Clinton, Effingham, Lincoln and more are now traveling farther to get food on their tables.

It’s a problem lawmakers are trying to address. They just passed a law making it easier for communities to grow their own food in their own backyards.

Supporters say growing food inside neighborhoods is healthier, cheaper and more convenient for low-income people with few food options.

One woman, who’s living that reality after the neighborhood Kroger closed this summer, says it’s been hard on everyone.

“This is what little vegetables we can afford right now.”

Since Rochelle Boline’s neighborhood Kroger closed four months ago, it’s slim pickings.

“Of course, my fridge is empty. Yeah, it’s been rough.”

Boline’s disabled and on a fixed income. She says Kroger is the cheapest option. Now, the closest one is six miles away. Getting there is a chore she can only do monthly.

“I try to make a list of what I might need and if I forget, I just go without.”

For her neighbors without cars, they’re depending on rides.

“It’s sad.”

By USDA standards, Boline is living in a food desert. It means the nearest supermarket is more than half a mile away.

“We need something here.”

Lawmakers are working to do that through community gardens like this one. Decatur already has some sprinkled around town, but a new law will help counties build more.

“If we can get actual vegetables and lettuce and tomatoes that we need to eat everyday, that’s really going to change things.”

Clinical social worker Mary Garrison has been working to address hunger throughout the community. She says she’s already seeing the impact and believes more gardens will come.

“I think there’s a lot of growth.”

Boline is hoping the growth spurs her way. She says going like this just won’t work.

“To put something like that in this area, I think would be great.”

The new law goes into effect next year. It allows counties or cities to change typically urban zones to agricultural zones.

The changes will allow community organizations to grow produce and raise livestock. The plan also lowers fees and property taxes on land used for gardening.

The new law was vetoed by Governor Bruce Rauner in August. He argued the cut would end up raising taxes for others. During veto session, lawmakers voted to override his decision.

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