At an American Farmland Trust conference held in 2000, farming was proclaimed dead in Lake County, recalled Vickey Ranney, founder of the Prairie Crossing conservation community. Eleven years later, planners are reconsidering the importance of farming to a community.
The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) has pledged a commitment to local food and farming in its Go To 2040 plan. The regional plan includes Cook, Lake, McHenry, DuPage, Kane, Kendall and Will counties.
Promoting local food is part of the plan, according to Randy Blankenhorn, executive director for CMAP and keynote speaker at the County Green conference, held at the , in May. Blankenhorn noted that there are only two regional plans across the country that include locally grown food as part of the plan.
Blankenhorn pointed out that 96 percent of the food in this region comes from outside the region. Bringing food in from elsewhere has both a negative economic impact and environmental impact.
“Large industrial farming is harder and harder to keep going and sustain,” said Steve Barg, executive director of the Liberty Prairie Conservancy, at County Green. “It requires big machinery and is heavily invested in pesticides and fertilizers to grow corn and beans.”
Barg said the farms in the vision of Go To 2040 are not the farms of the recent past, with acres and acres of monoculture. The plan encourages local, sustainable farms like those found at Prairie Crossing in Grayslake.
Ranney said the sustainable farm is not only better for the environment; it is also more profitable per acre than conventional farming.
Ranney said a conventional farm yields just $30 to $80 per acre, while an organic farm at Prairie Crossing yields $6,000 to $8,000 net profit per acre.
“This is why this kind of farming is the future for Lake County, because it’s profitable,” Ranney said.
“This is the new model for farming that will succeed in Lake County if we allow it to and support it,” Barg said.