How can you measure the health impacts of a policy decision? This is the question the Kane County urban planners were pondering when they were exploring the revision of the Kane County Farmland Protection Program. Created in 2001, the Farmland Protection Program has permanently protected over 5,500 acres of agricultural land throughout Kane County and has garnered attention from professional organizations throughout the country. Due to the success of this program, it is paramount to ensure that any changes made to the program will be done in a way that will help to not only enhance it, but to secure its continued survival. Kane County urban planners believe that they have found an effective way to evaluate proposed changes to the program through the use of a new tool – Health Impact Assessments.
Agriculture has been the dominant land use in Kane County, IL since it was founded in 1836. As a result, there has always been a strong emphasis on the protection and enhancement of agricultural lands within the County, especially since the adoption of the 2020 Land Resource Management Plan in 1996, which emphasized the importance of protecting agricultural lands from unnecessary urban growth. This commitment was furthered when the Kane County Farmland Protection program was adopted in 2001. Since then, “over 5500 acres have been permanently protected in Kaneville, Big Rock, Virgil, Burlington, Plato and Campton Townships. The Kane County Board and the Federal Farm and Ranchlands Program have invested over $ 32.6 million dollars to create Agricultural Conservation Easements to insure agriculture continues in perpetuity.”
Kane County planners would like to continue the legacy of farmland preservation within the County by amending the Kane County Farmland Protection Program. “The proposed amendment would broaden annual investments to include small farms and organic farmers producing fruits, vegetables and meats, and is intended in part to increase availability of fresh produce in schools, farmers markets, corner stores, and other sites in the community.” Kane County staff wanted to ensure that they could compile enough evidence to show that the proposed amendment would indeed have the intended impacts before bringing it before the Kane County Board for approval. It just so happened that a tool already existed, called the Health Impact Assessment, that would allow for the county to gather all of the information that they would need to make an informed decision.
Kane County received a grant from the Health Impact Project (a collaboration of the Pew Charitable Trust and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) to complete a Health Impact Assessment on the proposed amendment to the Kane County Farmland Protection Program. “Health Impact Assessment is a practical tool that uses data, research and stakeholder input to determine a policy or project’s impact on the health of a population.”
A Health Impact Assessment has six steps:
Screening: Determines the need and value of a HIA;
Scoping: Determines which health impacts to evaluate, the methods for analysis, and the work plan for completing the assessment;
Assessment: Provides: a) profile of existing health conditions, and b) evaluation of health impacts;
Recommendations: Provides strategies to manage identified adverse health impacts;
Reporting: Includes development of the HIA report and communication of findings and recommendations; and
Monitoring: Tracks impacts of the HIA on decision making processes and the decision, as well as impacts of the decision on health determinants.
Kane County hopes that by following this process, they will better understand the health impacts of their proposed amendment. “Based on the findings, the HIA will present health-based recommendations that could be incorporated into the amendment to optimize the health impacts.” The final Kane County Health Impact Assessment is expected to be completed by June 2013.
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Credits: Image courtesy of Kane County. Data linked to sources.