Chicago, Illinois

US lawmakers take on Chicago-area 'food deserts'

Illinois Democrat Robin Kelly’s says she has a way to alleviate Chicago-area “food deserts” by lifting a barrier to fruit and vegetable production in rural areas. Her “Feeding America through Farm Flexibility Act” would modify a rule that disincentivizes farmers of major commodities, such as corn and wheat, from switching production to fruits and vegetables.

The current rule allows farmers of certain crops to have price or revenue guarantees from the federal government, but only if they do not grow fruit, vegetables, or wild rice on more than 15% of their commodity "base acres." Kelly’s bill would raise this cap to 20%, if the extra produce is sold or donated to “food deserts”, by which she means poorer areas where high-quality groceries are lacking.

The current system is awkward and was put in place after heavy farmer lobbying, so experts recognize the need for reform. However, according to an article by The Washington Examiner, these same experts claim the scope of this change is very narrow and its effect on the prices of say lettuce, cucumber or oranges is likely to be immeasurably small.

Agriculture policy expert Jenny Ifft from Cornell University agrees with this assertion and said the reform “would definitely help some people, the principle is good.” She doubts, however, that there would be a large-scale transition to fruit and vegetable production in the Midwest.

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