Always a popular event with those interested in food and environmental issues, the 14th annual Good Food EXPO took place March 23-24 at the UIC Forum in Chicago. A hands-on farmer training was held all day on March 22. Some 150 exhibitors and field experts participated this year.
The EXPO, which celebrates sustainable food, attracts hundreds of people who discuss current topics and issues surrounding the Good Food Movement. It’s put on by FamilyFarmed, a leader in the Good Food movement and developing regional, sustainable food systems.
SGA spent time at the EXPO on Friday, when sessions focused on trade and wholesaler networking and selling. Here are some highlights:
Because growing young farmers is priority of the Good Food movement, the EXPO named Yoram Shanan, owner and founder of Sandbox Organics, the 2018 Beginning Farmer of the Year Award. Nature’s Path received the Good Food Business of the Year Award.
The opening symposium featured panels on food purchasing policy, and organic and regenerative agriculture. Leslie Fowler, Chicago Public Schools Chief of Nutrition and Facilities Operations, discussed the process of filling school lunch trays with healthy food on a budget of $1.40 per plate and the importance of establishing a relationship with a farm. That farm, Miller Poultry, was represented on the panel by director of sales Fred Lechlitner, who shared the story of a CPS student proudly taking home his chicken bone to show his parents the healthy food served at school.
The “Organic ‘Plus’” panel examined the practice of regenerative agriculture’s impact on soil health and farming productivity as well as the evolution of the “organic” label. There are differing opinions on this type of farming and issues surrounding the relaxed qualifications for a USDA organic certification. As a result, many sub-genres of “organic” have emerged that do not actually represent a sustainable philosophy - a concern expressed by many at the expo. Additionally, certain crops continue to be subsidized while more nutritious ones are not. “I don’t think you can fix a broken food system with a broken financial system,” panelist Matthew Dillon, senior director of agriculture for Clif Bar & Company, said. David Montgomery, a professor and author of “Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life,” added: “We’ve focused on feeding the world but have forgotten about nourishing the world.”
Breakout panels were offered on three tracks: trade, policy and farmer training. Diane Chapeta, Seven Generations Ahead’s Illinois Farm to School programs manager, took part in the session called “Selling to the Government and Institutions,” which focused on supporting and connecting Illinois and other regional farms to resources.
All panelists strongly advised that farmers approach potential customers with thorough research, a portfolio, and an appreciation of what is required to foster a relationship. Panelists stressed that working with the government is a process while reassuring farmers and small business owners that free assistance is available every step of the way. Free certifications exist for small businesses or woman/minority/veteran-owned businesses/farms, and once a business is in the database, many more resources are available. Farmers can contact the Illinois Farm to School Network or a Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) for help. The University of Illinois Extension also is a top resource for farmers looking to sell to schools, panelists noted.
Here is a list of links and resources that could be useful if you own a farm or other food-related business:
- Illinois Farm to School Network and National Farm to School Network
- Illinois PTAC directory and national directory
- University of Illinois Extension
- Veteran-owned business program
- Woman-, minority-, or persons with disability-owned business certification program
- Regenerative agriculture certification
- The Good Food EXPO and FamilyFarmed
On Saturday, the festival was geared toward consumers and was free to the general public.
-- Alli Preble