Experiences help bridge urban-farm divide

Plenty of options for county Farm Bureaus wanting to participate in the Adopt-a-Legislator program.

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Sen. Laura Murphy, D-Des Plaines, right, learns about combine technology from Mercer County Farm Bureau President Michael Zecher, left, and county Farm Bureau Director Justin Ewing following a combine ride on Ewing’s farm as part of a harvest tour. (Photos by Christina Nourie)

By Kay Shipman

Distances and backgrounds give way to common values in Illinois Farm Bureau’s Adopt-a-Legislator® program. 

State Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, lives far from Alexander, Massac and Pulaski counties, but he appreciates learning about farming and more down south: “As an urban citizen, I bring to Springfield my experiences from that environment, but to have real rural/farm life experiences to go along with the legislative discussion and analysis is invaluable.”

While lawmakers are racing to meet end-of-legislative-session deadlines, county Farm Bureau leaders should be planning potential post-session visits and activities, and getting those on legislators’ calendars, advised Christina Nourie, IFB northeast legislative coordinator who oversees the program.

Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, left, chats with Illinois Farm Bureau Director Kenton Thomas, right, and Massac County Farm Bureau Director Marc Bremer during their tour of a vocational academy in Evans’ legislative district on the south side of Chicago.
Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, left, chats with Illinois Farm Bureau Director Kenton Thomas, right, and Massac County Farm Bureau Director Marc Bremer during their tour of a vocational academy in Evans’ legislative district on the south side of Chicago.

“Keep in mind this is an election year, and they are busier than usual. Maybe make a (legislative) district visit if it’s difficult for them to come to your county,” Nourie said.    

State Sen. Laura Murphy, D-Des Plaines, grew up in the Chicago area with little exposure to agriculture. Her farm experiences, including a combine ride, and talking with Mercer County Farm Bureau leaders gave her a basic understanding of farming “and broadened my horizon of the importance of agriculture and the number of jobs it provides,” Murphy said. She remains amazed by the technology and efficiency of the farms she visited and added some people overlook agriculture’s importance to the state economy.

Even everyday experiences can make an impact. Mercer County Farm Bureau President Michael Zecher chuckled when he remembered Murphy’s first trip on a gravel road. “It was a big eye-opener,” Zecher said. The senator asked, “What do you with the big cloud of dust?”

Zecher and Pulaski-Alexander Farm Bureau President Ken Taake shared their county leaders also gain through experiences in their adopted legislators’ districts, a suburban area and the south side of Chicago, respectively.

The county Farm Bureaus also share with their adopted legislators’ constituents. Massac and Pulaski-Alexander Farm Bureaus have donated children’s ag books to schools and libraries in Evans’ district and returned with ideas from a Chicago vocational academy to share with their local superintendents, said the counties’ Farm Bureau Manager Tammie Obermark.

“It definitely means the world to me because we equally have love for our own communities, like our families,” Evans said of the county Farm Bureaus’ donations. “To have individuals come from hundreds of miles away to express love and concern for my community in any way is truly heartwarming and very appreciated.”  

This summer, Mercer County plans to try a Scott County Farm Bureau idea to donate locally grown sweet corn to a food pantry in Murphy’s district.

In Murphy’s eyes, a sweet corn donation would not only mean farm fresh produce for hungry people, but also an opportunity to teach others about corn, Illinois farming and possibly future careers. “Exposing a kid to the whole ag concept, who knows?” she said. “There is more to agriculture than planting a seed.”    

Nourie encouraged county Farm Bureau leaders “to think outside the box. They’ll (legislators) really remember those.”

Exchanges between adopted legislators and county Farm Bureaus are particularly timely, according to Evans.

“I believe that these actions are important to bring people together with different experiences and that is critical for Illinois,” the Chicago lawmaker said. “As citizens of Illinois, we have differences and we are not all connected, but seemingly small gestures from the Farm Bureau and its great members can go a long way in bridging. We are all a large community of Illinois, but we have to do more connecting and learning from each other.”

Consider unique ideas

County Farm Bureaus wanting to try something beyond a farm tour or visit to an adopted legislator’s district will find many options, according to Nourie.

Community fairs If your adopted legislator sponsors some type of fair, consider hosting a booth or distributing Ag in the Classroom materials.

Charitable organizations, schools and libraries Volunteering at a charitable organization or making an agricultural donation, such as locally grown sweet corn, children’s ag books or a pedal tractor, to a school, library or a crisis nursery helps support the adopted legislator’s constituents and makes a farm connection. 

Constituent/student exchanges Consider hosting a visit for the adopted legislator and a constituent group, such as high school students, and then return with group from the county for an urban tour of the legislator’s district.

Invitation to county fair/membership picnic/county FB annual meeting Invite your adopted legislator and his/her family to attend a county fair or membership picnic. Ask them to give the keynote address at a local or county Farm Bureau event.     

Adopt-A-Classroom Think about adopting a classroom in a school in your adopted legislator’s district and coordinating a farmer visit so the legislator can attend.

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