white bite with crumbs

 

The local food movement sure is cooking in Chicagoland. While we live in one of the most plentiful food generating regions, it’s estimated a paltry 6% of our produce is grown in Illinois. Soured by food that travels over 1,000 miles to plate and is questionably produced to begin with, consumers are demanding locally sourced, organic food big time. Lagging supply has created tremendous opportunities for rebooting our local food system. This means choosing better ways to grow, process, deliver, distribute, serve and sell our food. A win-win for healthier people, communities, the environment and the economy. Here’s a taste of the Big Onion’s good food strides so far: 

 

Cultivating Markets

Every neighborhood needs access to fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables. Fortunately, Chicagoland has a growing list of grocers, CSAs and farmers markets available to buy local sustainable food

Last August, the popular 16-year-old Green City Market in Lincoln Park  opened a second outpost in the Fulton Market District. Photo from www.westloop.org.

Last August, the popular 17-year-old Green City Market in Lincoln Park opened a second outpost in the Fulton Market District. Photo from www.westloop.org.

In 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that the number of low-income Chicago residents living in food deserts had declined by 21% since 2011 and he is committed to eliminating food deserts in the city by 2020. Fertile efforts have included the expansion of markets in food insecure areas, coupled with education outreach. This summer, Walgreens finished installing fresh produce “food oasis” in 50 food desert stores.  Another gamechanger is Whole Food’s upcoming location in Englewood.

 

Efforts are underway to eliminate Chicago’s food deserts (shown in red), where access to fresh, healthy food is limited. Illustration from www.kevingeraldsmith.com. First lady Michelle Obama visits a Chicago Walgreens that was expanded to carry fresh produce in 2011. Newscom photo from www.crainschicagobusiness.com.

Efforts are underway to eliminate Chicago’s food deserts (shown above in red), where access to fresh, healthy food is limited. Illustration from www.kevingeraldsmith.com. In 2011, First Lady Michelle Obama visited a Chicago Walgreens that was expanded to carry fresh produce. Newscom photo from www.crainschicagobusiness.com.

 

 

 

Farms and Farmers Plowing Forward

City Farms has been converting vacant city lots into productive farmland for over 40 years in Chicago. More recently, an influx of many other urban farms has sprouted citywide.

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After 4 months of instruction, Windy City Harvest apprentices participate in a 14-week paid internship. Image from www.chicagobotanic.org

Organizations such as Growing PowerWindy City Harvest, Growing Home and Angelic Organics Learning Center are not only producing local, organic food, but providing intensive training for a crop of new urban farmers as well. Alternatives to conventional agriculture are also occurring outside of Cook County. The Liberty Prairie Foundation’s Farm Business Development Center supports new farmers by providing affordable access to certified organic land near Chicago and introducing experienced mentor farmers. Wilmette-based Iroquois Valley is nation’s first private equity firm to connect investors with organic farmland transitioned by local family farmers.

 

Growing Power's hoop houses extend food production year round.

Growing Power’s hoop houses extend food production year round.

 

 

Indoor Harvests

Farms are moving indoors thanks to technology. Farmed Here, in Bedford Park, is considered one of the nation’s largest indoor vertical farms. Using aquaponics, organic greens are grown soil-free under LED lights, fed with water in tanks enriched by hormone-free tilapia. The Plant, a net-zero energy vertical farm and business incubator also houses aquaponic growing systems. O’Hare features the first aeroponic garden at an airport in the world. Vegetables and herbs produced in 26 root-misting towers are consumed at airport restaurants. These facilities reap the benefits of year-round production, water efficiency, insect-free crops, and the avoidance of droughts and floods.

 

FarmedHere's organic greens and herbs are available at many grocery chains throughout Chicagoland. Photo from www. chicagotonight.wttw.com

FarmedHere’s organic arugula, kale, basil, mint, and salad greens are available at many grocery chains throughout Chicagoland. Photo from www.chicagotonight.wttw.com

 

 

Propagating Planters 

During wartime in the 1940s, citizens planted 20 million Victory Gardens, which produced 40% of the vegetables consumed in the US. After many unproductive years, growing food is back in

A student at the  Academy for Global Citizenship proudly displays the bounty of organic ???.

An Academy for Global Citizenship student proudly displays a bumper crop of organic tomatillos.

style. At homes, schools, congregations, neighborhood plots, corporate campuses and even golf clubs, folks are transforming outdoor spaces into edible havens. Everything under the sun – including garden patches, living walls, fruit trees and even chicken coops and beekeeping –  is back on the table. Chicagoans are enjoying all the homegrown benefits – better freshness, taste, health, economics, nature connection, community building and fun!

The locally-produced film Food Patriots highlights a family’s journey to healthy, homegrown food along with many other leaders in local food production.

The locally-produced film Food Patriots highlights a family’s journey to healthy, homegrown food along with many other leaders in local food production.

 

 

Appetizing Enterprises

Local and organic food is a hot, fast growing, multi-billion dollar industry. And Chicagoland entrepreneurs are hungry to meet the growing demand. Notice the rise of farm-to-table restaurants, microbreweries and distilleries, coffee roasters, artisanal food producers, composters, urban ag, aquaponics, etc. Watch out for Local Foods‘ fab new Lincoln Park space coming soon. It will be Chicago’s first wholesale distributor and retailer of strictly local food from the Midwest’s finest farmers. Many more good food innovations and businesses to come.

 

Farmers Fridge is a new way to get a fresh, handcrafted organic salad and snacks from vending machines, 7 kiosks now sprinkled throughout the city and more to come.

Farmers Fridge is a gamechanging vending concept that offers fresh, organic gourmet salads and snacks, 9 kiosks are currently sprinkled throughout the city.

 

 

Nurturing Mentors and Investors

For over a decade, Family Farmed has been bringing together farmers, food businesses, investors, policymakers, and others engaged in expanding a robust Midwest Good Food cluster. Last fall, they launched the Good Food Business Accelerator at the 1871 tech incubator to prepare food and farm start-ups for primetime. As a recipe for success, selected fellows are provided with mentoring, resources. To bridge financing barriers, the Good Food Financing and Innovation Conference offers a forum for businesses to pitch their idea, and investors to learn about new businesses. Since 2011, the Sustainable Local Food Investment Group (SLoFIG), an angel network with 27 members, has focused on businesses along the food supply chain. So far they have invested $1.2 million in multiple projects. Venture funds and private equity investors have also become increasingly active in Chicago’s sustainable food space. On a smaller scale, Seed Chicago curates a Kickstarter page to crowdfund food projects.

Fellows of the Good Foods Business Accelerator participate in an intensive 6-month mentorship and can pitch at the Good Foods Finance and Innovation Conference. Phoenix Bean offered tasty artisanal tofu samples at last year’s event.

Fellows of the Good Foods Business Accelerator can pitch at the Good Foods Finance and Innovation Conference. Phoenix Bean offered tasty artisanal tofu samples at last year’s event.

 

 

Palate-pleasing Chefs and Restaurateurs

For years, Chicago chefs have influenced our culture’s appetite with local, sustainable food. In the early ‘90s, icon Charlie Trotter brought notoriety to organically grown, city-sourced Cabrini Greens, lauding it’s superior flavor.

A sign at Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless at O'Hare identifies where its food originates.

A sign at the popular Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless at O’Hare Airport identifies food source partners and origins.

Pioneer Rick Bayless has long served locally grown food at his restaurants, awarded grants to small Midwestern farmers, and served as a Chefs Collaborative change agent. Michael and Helen Cameron harvest food on-site at Uncommon Ground, named “the greenest restaurant in America” and recently opened Illinois’ first organic brewery, Greenstar.The Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition, Green City MarketEdible Chicago, The Local Beet and Slow Foods showcase our sustainable chefs and restaurants.

 

Breaking new ground, Uncommon Ground, the first certified organic rooftop farm in the country, at it's Devon location.

Uncommon Ground (on Devon) brings farm-to-table to a new level with the first certified organic rooftop farm in the country.

 

 

Taste for Transparency

The more we know about our food, the healthier it tends to be. However, it is not always easy for consumers to understandably digest the genetic modifications, pesticides, antibiotics, processing chemicals, synthetic ingredients or origin of our food. We have a right to know what we are eating. One positive step would be passing the GMO labeling bill in the Illinois legislature. Sustainable food producers go to great effort to inform consumers of their production profile. And many grocers, restaurants and producers now commonly share how and where food was grown.

 

Baker Miller in Lincoln Square

Baker Miller, a new bakery and local grain miller in Lincoln Square, identifies the actual farms where grains are grown and the specific varieties.

 

 

Feeding the Ecosystem

A cornucopia of public, private and non-profit partners have been working to improve the way we eat and strengthen the Chicago foodshed. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s GOTO 2040 regional plan, echoed by the City of Chicago’s A Recipe For Healthy Places, calls for facilitating local food production, increasing access to healthy food and raising awareness. In parallel, Fresh Taste was formed by Chicago-region foundations to catalyze change. This noteworthy funder collaborative works to strategically address systematic gaps in the local, sustainable food system. To date, members have collectively awarded over $14 million in grants to support good food initiatives.

 

In 2014, the Chicago Community Trust and The Searle Funds/Kinship Foundation, members of Fresh Taste, launched the Food:Land:Opportunity, a groundbreaking intiative to fund $2 million annually to local for projects for the next 2 years.

In 2014, The Chicago Community Trust and the Kinship Foundation, members of Fresh Taste, announced Food:Land:Opportunity, a groundbreaking initiative to fund $2 million annually to local projects for the next 2 years.

 

 

Scrumptious Celebration

Starting 11 years ago, folks throughout our local food system have been uniting at the annual Good Food Festival & Conference, this year coming on March 19-21 at the UIC Forum. Organized by Family Farmed, the event includes the Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference, Good Food Trade Show, School Food Summit, Food Policy Conference, Localicious tasting party and consumer-focused Festival with an impressive lineup of exhibitors, speakers, DIY workshops and chef demos. Nearly 5,000 people attend including farmers, food businesses, restaurateurs, policy makers, and consumers. For networking, learning, changemaking or sampling, this foodie fest takes the cake!  

 

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Now go explore these good food transformers and show them some love!  And let’s keep pushing for a vibrant, sustainable food system in Chicagoland.