When Liz Rupel saw that she had been nominated, she was touched that someone was thinking of her. "It's just like a motivator when you needed one," she says. "There's someone out there in the community that believes in you. It's a motivator to keep making change and trying to make this world a little better."
Rupel has been the lead organizer with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA) since 2018, working to change local food systems for the better. Her work involves going out and meeting farmers where they are to discuss barriers they face, then coming back to her team and figuring out if there is a policy change that can dismantle that barrier.
One of her crowning achievements in the last few years was being part of the effort of several organizations that were instrumental in getting the Industrial Hemp Act passed in Illinois, legalizing hemp for fiber and CBD. Ashland farmer Chad Wallace of Oak Tree Organics told her: "I feel like I'm changing lives when someone tells me they no longer have pain," because of the CBD hemp he grows.
Illinois is an agricultural state, and it's only natural that people take an interest in their food. "One good thing about the pandemic," remarks Rupel, "people did stop and take a look at where their food comes from and who grew it. It's great looking at food and regenerative agriculture. Before they seemed like separate little islands, but the word is getting out that everything is connected. It starts with soil."
As for 2023, Rupel says they have some "cool things in store for climate and water quality." With climate change transitioning from a hypothetical future to our everyday reality, the connections between our food and how it is grown and the health of the planet we are passing on to future generations is even more apparent.
With ISA, Rupel notes, "I'm there as an organizer to make sure that I'm helping to build up other leaders and encouraging our farmer members that they can take action, and to help give the tools that others need to be leaders themselves. I'm laying the groundwork for others, but also trying to be part of the change the best I can. I want to see other people shine."