I imagine there are great qualities about living in a big city or suburb, but I would not know. I have lived my entire life in the same rural community. I am proud of my rural, farm roots, but I also recognize the need to better understand the perspectives of others around the state and nation.

In many ways, our state and country have become divided. Politically certainly, but in other ways, too.

Illinois is home to a major metropolitan city in Chicago with 77 different neighborhoods. We have many suburbs and smaller cities, and large tracts of farmland, and small communities. But we are labeled as being from “Chicago” or “downstate.”

The Illinois Farm Bureau has identified bridging the urban, suburban and rural divide as one of our Board Action Priorities.

We must listen to all perspectives, learn where we have common ground, respect various points of view and help bridge the divide in this country. I am not suggesting we compromise our beliefs. I am suggesting we reach out, listen and seek to understand others.

IFB has a history of reaching outside agriculture to build relationships.

The Adopt-A-Legislator program, Ag in the Classroom, Illinois Farm Families and Cultivating Our Communities are all good examples. We intend to build on programs with new partnerships in urban communities.

Two-thirds of the state legislators represent urban and suburban districts. Gov. JB Pritzker is from Chicago. All four legislative leaders are from suburban districts.

As a farm organization, food is the link that connects us to all our state’s consumers. Food access and assistance impact rural Illinoisans and urban communities. Highlighting those food issues will allow us to work in a space that truly impacts our members and their communities.

Food systems are local, despite Illinois being a part of an international food market. We learned this during the COVID-19 pandemic when disruptions big and small impacted Illinoisans’ ability to access food.

We intend to work with county Farm Bureaus to identify community leaders interested in collaborating with us to address their food-related needs.

With more than 100 years in our history, Illinois Farm Bureau looks forward to helping build new partnerships and foster relationships between farmers and suburban and urban consumers. We invite you to join us!

This op-ed was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association.

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