By Carrie Salls & Dan McCaleb
Illinois News Network
As a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Sean Londrigan followed a disciplined daily regimen and the military’s strict set of rules.
Now a small family farm owner with his wife, Danielle, in downstate Petersburg, Londrigan must play by a different set of rules – those put in place by Illinois state government.
“Illinois is very, very tough on people who want to sell [farm products] out of their home,” he said.
And it’s not just those farmers who try to sell produce, meat, milk and other products out of their homes who are affected by the state’s burdensome regulations and what to many feels like endless bureaucracy. It’s a challenge facing many Illinois farmers who want to bring their homegrown food to consumers, including at farmers’ markets and local grocery stores.
With the goal of helping family farmers like the Londrigans, the Illinois Stewardship Alliance is promoting passage of four new bills this legislative session that would ease government regulations in some cases and streamline them statewide in others.
The legislative package seeks to standardize farmers market regulations across Illinois, add new foods to the list of those acceptable for home production and sales, and ease regulations on the preparation and storage of some homegrown food.
For example, one of the bills would allow farmers to use coolers to keep food cold at a market rather than having to bring a refrigerator. Another would ease regulations on the sale of raw milk.
The Londrigans bought the Petersburg property, just northwest of Springfield, in 2005, when Sean was still on active duty. They didn’t initially intend to farm on it, but after a stint owning an even smaller family farm when he was stationed in Colorado, they decided farming was for them.
Today, they grow 80 different varieties of fruits and vegetables. They raise open range chickens, turkeys, goats and other farm animals. And they sell as much of their products as they can to consumers across the region.
But because of Illinois’ stifling regulations, they don’t sell anywhere near the amount of products they want.
“We would like to sell syrup, breads. We would like to sell milk and milk products,” Sean Londrigan said. “They’re in high demand, but I can’t do it without wading through the regulations.”
Selling raw milk, for example, would cost the Londrigans almost $15,000 in equipment upgrades and labor expenses to be in state compliance.
“We don’t sell enough milk to make that investment,” Londrigan said. “It’s impossible. In Colorado, I sold raw milk. They had regulations. But they didn’t require all the expensive things that Illinois does.”
August Jones of Small Axe Market Garden in Springfield said it’s becoming more difficult for some family farmers to make a decent living because of Illinois’ regulations and changing consumer tastes that are driving market demand.
“The general public is largely uninformed about the difficulties small farmers face in terms of production, marketing and sustainable income,” Jones said, adding that he makes his own vegetable juice, but has to sell it “under the table.”
Londrigan said he has several items on his farm that customers want to buy, but that he cannot legally sell “because of various legislative roadblocks.
“Because we are a small permaculture farm, we don’t mass produce anything, or even specialize in one certain product,” Londrigan said. “Every product I can’t sell threatens my ability to stay in business.”
It’s not just the farming industry that is affected by strict regulations. As part of a review of state laws across the country, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University recently found Illinois has twice as many regulations as neighboring Missouri and Kentucky.
“For the first few states we looked at, Virginia, Missouri and Kentucky, they all had very similar levels of regulations, so that in itself was an interesting finding,” Mercatus research fellow James Broughel told Illinois News Network earlier this month. “But then we look at Illinois, and it doubled in size.”
The various farming de-regulation bills currently are being debated in Illinois House and Senate committees.