Thursday, September 13, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Featured image: State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, and small farmers from Whiteside County, inside of a greenhouse in the Proviso Giving Garden in Maywood. | VFP
Whiteside County, Ill. is where the easternmost portion of Iowa kisses the westernmost portion of the Land of Lincoln. Tampico, one of the county’s most recognizable municipalities, is where President Ronald Reagan was born. Morrison, Whiteside’s county seat, is closer to Iowa City than Chicago.
But during a Wednesday morning earlier this month, a group of farmers from Whiteside County was in Maywood to see the state representative they’re calling their own even though his office is more than two hours away from where they live.
“Every other year, we alternate,” said state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) — the legislator this group representing the Whiteside County Farm Bureau adopted as part of the Illinois Farm Bureau’s Adopt-A-Legislator program.
“This year, it’s their turn to visit me, so I wanted to show off what Chris is doing over here,” he said.
Welch was standing near the Proviso Giving Garden, the largest urban garden in Maywood that spans the perimeter of ReUse Depot, 50 Madison St., on Sept. 5.
Chris Epps — the garden’s master gardener who is employed full-time by Proviso Partners for Health, a coalition of organizations dedicated to raising the quality of life for residents in the township — gave the group a tour of the garden and explained its importance to Maywood and the surrounding suburbs.
“I designed this garden for it be a potential farm,” Epps told the visitors as he showed them his crops of tomatoes, turnip greens, peppers and more. “It has everything we need to be productive. Over the last 18 months, I’ve easily grown more than 2,000 pounds of produce.”
Paul Kane, a small farmer from Whiteside, said that he and the other small farmers in the group grow corn, soybeans, watermelons, cantaloupe and hay, among other things. Even though their land spans between 400 and 700 acres, they’re still considered small farmers, he said.
“We’re the small group,” Kane said. “The average sized farm is getting up over 1,000 acres.”
Epps, who lit up during this discussion, said he’d love to visit one of the farms someday — and like that, a seed was planted.
Matt Lillpop, the executive director of the Whiteside County Farm Bureau, said that the Adopt-A-Legislator program was designed to facilitate these kinds of cultural exchanges.
According to it’s website, the program was developed in 2001 in order to build “long-term personal relationships between urban state legislators and farmers from across the state.
“The goal of the program is to educate urban legislators about agriculture, our state’s largest industry, and rural life, while also helping our members better understand the needs and concerns of an urban district.”
State Rep. Welch, second from right, with Whiteside County small farmers and Chris Epps, far left, in the Proviso Giving Garden. | VFP
Lillpop said that he and the other farmers first adopted Welch’s immediate predecessor, former state representative and current Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough.
“Karen told me during our transition period that she was adopted into this program and asked me if it would be something I’d be interested in continuing,” Welch said. “I said it sounds fabulous. So, she introduced me and they explained the idea behind the program. I was fascinated.”
Welch said that he’s taken his wife and two children, and busloads of senior citizens, to farms in Whiteside County.
The exchanges, the Democratic legislator said, have helped him to better understand how vital agriculture is to Illinois. In turn, he said, he hopes that the farmers, who live in areas with Republican state legislators, can get some understanding of why he votes the way he does.
This year, Welch said, he was eager to take his honorary constituents on a tour of his district — where in some areas, such as Maywood — which lost its only full-service grocery store in 2016 — food is much harder to come by.
In addition to the Giving Garden, Welch also took them to Borg Warner, the automative parts manufacturer, at 700 S. 25th Ave. in Bellwood, and Vanee Foods, which makes a variety of products from soups to gravies, at 2750 S. 25th Ave. in Broadview. The group stopped at Giordano’s, 10410 W. Cermak Rd. in Westchester, for lunch.
“Agriculture is a huge part of our economy,” Welch said. “If we ignore agriculture, we’ll ignore a critical part of what makes our state’s economy grow.”
And it can also be what brings people together, the farmers said.
“There’s something about agriculture and food that is so basic to all of us,” said Kane said. “We’ll lose track of it, if we’re not careful.” VFP
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