Whet Your Appetite for the Upcoming Good Food Festival & Conference

by Bob Benenson, FamilyFarmed

FamilyFarmed’s year-round efforts to expand the Good Food movement for consumers, producers, and marketers come together every March at its Good Food Festival & Conference in Chicago.

The schedule for this year’s 11th annual Festival & Conference, which takes place March 19-21 at the UIC Forum on the campus of University of Illinois at Chicago, has been released. And since you clearly have an interest in Good Food — you are, after all, reading a website called Good Food on Every Table — we hope the following details will whet your appetite for the event and persuade you to join this celebration of the fast-growing Good Food movement.

The schedule below is a little out of chronological order because the two biggest public gatherings — the Good Food Festival on Saturday, March 21, and Localicious, one of Chicago’s premier food and drink tasting events, on the evening of Friday, March 20 — are at the end of the conference.

But if you have a professional or personal interest in the business and issues surrounding local and sustainably produced food, please read on about the Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference and Financing Fair on Thursday, March 19, and the Trade Day (the nation’s oldest and largest trade show focusing on local and sustainable food) on Friday, March 20.

Good Food Festival — Saturday, March 21 (9 a.m.-5 p.m)

Farmer Gene Mealhow of Tiny But Mighty.

Farmer Gene Mealhow with Tiny But Mighty’s popcorn products at FamilyFarmed’s 2014 Good Food Festival.

The 11th annual Good Food Festival & Conference is capped by its big public event… a family-friendly day of inspiring speakers, DIY workshops, chef demos, an interactive Kids Corner and exhibitor floor — all designed to grow the Good Food movement.

• The heart of our Festival is the big hall featuring about 150 exhibitors: farmers, artisanal food producers, retailers, other vendors, and nonprofit organizations promoting the benefits of Good Food on health, the environment, and the economy. Attendees can meet them and sample their goods on the show floor, in the Good Food Court and at the CSA Pavilion. Many of our speakers are authors — talk with them and pick up a signed book at the bookseller’s table.

• Greg Wade from Chicago’s Publican Quality Bread (part of Chef Paul Kahan’s One Off Hospitality Group) will present a Master Class on bread-making using artisan milled flours from local and heritage grains. The class includes how artisan flours behave differently from typical off-the-shelf flours; the complex flavor profiles of various heirloom and ancient grains; and a demonstration of methods and techniques for dough mixing, slow fermentation rising, and dough forming.

• Dave and Megan Miller from Baker Miller Bakery & Millhouse — a fast-rising star on the Chicago food scene — will present a DIY workshop titled “Home Milling and Baking with Local and Heirloom Grains” on how to prepare delicious whole-grain baked goods at home.

• Rob Levitt, one of Chicago’s premier butchers, will conduct a workshop on charcuterie. Rob and his wife Allie for the past eight years have been champions of sustainably produced meats from local and regional producers at their shop, The Butcher & Larder, in the Noble Square neighborhood. They recently announced their operation will move into a larger space in the retail store that Local Foods — a sponsor of the Good Food Festival & Conference — is launching in the Bucktown neighborhood.

• Great chefs have always been a big draw at the Good Food Festival, as attendees can meet and learn from some of the area’s top culinary masters. This year will be no exception.

Paul Fehribach, chef-owner of Chicago's Big Jones restaurant

Paul Fehribach, chef-owner of Chicago’s Big Jones restaurant and author of the upcoming The Big Jones Cookbook

Family Farmed will be presenting its Good Food Chef of the Year award to Paul Fehribach, who brings deep historical research to his brilliant traditional Southern cooking at Big Jones restaurant in Chicago’s Andersonville community. Paul, who has become a regular participant in the Friday night Localicious event, goes out of his way to source from local producers and growers of heirloom varieties of food that in recent years had grown rare.

• Another chefs’ session will charm foodies and families alike. Matthias Merges — the highly regarded chef-owner of Chicago hot spots such as Yusho, Billy Sunday, and A10 — will team with Jason Hammel of Lula Café and Nightwood to highlight the Pilot Light program they co-founded that integrates food education into the curriculum in Chicago public schools. Chefs participating in Pilot Light hold scheduled events in which they go to schools and teach about the role of food in society with fun, age-appropriate, and hands-on lessons.

•  Many people participate in the Good Food movement in a very hands-on way. If you are one of them, then the Festival’s Good Food Commons may be one of your favorite events all year. Expert practitioners will hold informative and engaging discussions under the DIY categories of Make, Grow, Raise, Preserve, Compost, and Community. Sample topics include “High-Yield Urban Gardens” and “Homescale Aquaponics” (Grow); “Vegetable Fermentation,” “Canning,” and “Pickling” (Preserve); “Composting in the City” (Compost); and “Food Co-ops RISING!” featuring the recently established Chicagoland Food Co-op Coalition and representatives of six co-ops (Community).

• What would the Good Food Festival be without good food to eat? Some of Chicago’s best eateries will be serving delicious fare in the Good Food Court. And for the first time, the Good Food Festival will have its own corner bar! The Craft Drink Corner — presented by Farmhouse, one of the area’s top establishments featuring locally produced food and drink— will have awesome local and regional craft beverages for purchase.

• Gain an up-close perspective on the rising phenomenon of urban food production by joining the Urban Farm Bus Tour. This is your chance to see the city’s innovative urban agriculture in action at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest, Growing Power’s Iron Street farm, Growing Home’s Wood Street farm, and The Plant, an innovative urban farming and food business incubator. (Special ticket required)

• The Good Food Festival also plays host to the annual conference of the Illinois Farmers Market Association. The Illinois Farmers Market Conference will provide business improvement opportunities, roundtable discussions, and a keynote speaker experienced in marketing for farmers. Learn more about this growing sector that is bringing great locally grown foods and economic opportunity across the great state of Illinois! (Special ticket required)

Localicious — Friday, March 20 (7 p.m — 9:30 p.m)

The Localicious party is, quite simply, one of the premier annual food and drink tasting events in Chicago. Presented by FamilyFarmed and Local Foods (a Chicago grocer and distributor), Localicious is totally on-message for the Good Food Festival & Conference. It pairs top chefs who seek the finest in local and sustainably produced ingredients and the farmers from whom they purchase.

Delicious bites can be paired with some of the region’s finest craft beer, spirits, hard cider, and wine. As though that isn’t enough enticement, a great bluegrass band provides entertainment.

• Restaurants participating in Localicious include Big Jones, Browntrout, The Chicago Diner, Duke’s Alehouse & Kitchen, Farmhouse, The Kitchen, Lyfe Kitchen, mfk, Uncommon Ground, and Vera.

• The beverage program spans the Great Lakes region and will include rising stars of the craft world including Begyle Brewing of Chicago; New Holland Brewery and Distillery of Holland, Michigan; FEW Spirits of Evanston, Illinois; Koval Distillery, which was founded in 2008 as Chicago’s first distillery since Prohibition; Journeyman Distillery of Three Oaks, Michigan; Death’s Door Distillery of Middleton, Wisconsin; Cello Via liqueurs; Lehman’s Orchard ciders from Michigan; Fenn Valley wines from Michigan; and Wollersheim wines from Wisconsin.

• Craft soft drink makers participating in Localicious include NessAlla kombucha and SenTEAmental Moods. Also serving great food and treats will be Eli’s Cheesecake, Katherine Anne Confections, Ruth and Phil’s Ice Cream, and White Oak Gourmet.

Robert Birnecker of Chicago's Koval Distillery

Robert Birnecker describes an array of Koval’s spirits during a distillery tour and tasting.

Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference/Financing Fair — Thursday, March 19 (8:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.)

The Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference is a dynamic day that connects funders with food businesses seeking financing. Past participants in the Financing Fair have raised $11 million in funding over the past three years.

Our juried Financing Fair gives growing food businesses the opportunity to pitch their business plans to investors, funders, and lenders. This year’s conference also will feature presentations by members of the first group of Fellows participating in FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Business Accelerator.

• The Welcome panel that opens the Conference from 9-10 on Thursday morning features: Marc Schulman of Eli’s Cheesecake, Howard Tullman of 1871, Cook County (Chicago) Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Anne Alonzo of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service, Renee Michaels of Food, Land, Opportunity: Localizing the Chicago Foodshed, FamilyFarmed Board Chair Charlotte Flinn, and FamilyFarmed Board member Jennifer Worstell as they discuss funding and investing in the Good Food economy with moderator Jim Slama, president of Family Farmed.

Michael Bashaw, president of Whole Foods Market’s Midwest division; Marc Schulman; and Jennifer Worstell are co-chairs of the Good Food Festival & Conference.

• The morning session will proceed with an overview of the Good Food Business Accelerator and business plan pitches by program Fellows. The Accelerator program, launched by FamilyFarmed in fall 2014, is helping nine competitively selected entrepreneurial food and farm businesses get ready for successful investor interaction. It provides mentoring by industry leaders, technical assistance, and opportunity to network in FamilyFarmed’s expansive community of buyers, sellers, and financiers.

• Whole Foods Market, which is continuing its longstanding role as a sponsor of the Good Food Festival & Conference, is also a lead partner in the Good Food Business Accelerator. Michael Bashaw, president of Whole Foods Market’s Midwest division, is a co-chairman of the Good Food Festival & Conference, and he will be a panelist at the Opening Symposium from 10 a.m.-10:45 a.m. Thursday.

• Other Opening Symposium panelists include Melody Meyer of UNFI, the nation’s largest independent distributor of sustainably produced food and a partner in the Good Food Business Accelerator; Jim Murphy of Chicago’s Local Foods; Galen Miller of Indiana’s Miller Poultry; Marianne Markowitz of the U.S. Small Business Administration; and moderator Jim Slama, president of FamilyFarmed.

• The annual Financing Fair is a highlight of the afternoon program, which also includes panels on “Building a Good Food Brand and Business” (Rick Bayless of the Frontera Mexican restaurant group and Manny Valdes of Frontera packaged foods are panelists), “Good Food Business Success Stories” (learn about great businesses such as Koval Distillery, FarmedHere, Argo Tea, and Lifeway Kefir), and “Good Food is a Good Investment.”

• Stay for a Craft Beverage Reception presented by the Farmhouse restaurants in Chicago and Evanston, whose offerings feature local and regional products.

Good Food Trade Show, Food Policy Conference, School Food Conference, Producer Conference — Friday, March 20 (9 a.m — 7 p.m)

The Friday programming for the Good Food Festival & Conference contains four powerful tracks.

The Good Food Trade track features food industry experts and information for buyers, sellers, and others in the local and sustainable food marketplace.

The Food Policy Conference includes sessions and networking aimed at raising the profile of the Good Food movement and gaining new allies at the government policy-making level.

The School Food Conference’s panels focus on how to expand farm-to-school programs so more children have healthier and tastier food served to them.

The Producer track has discussions of issues aimed at farmers seeking opportunity and growth in the Good Food sector.

The centerpiece of the day’s event is the Trade Show, in which more than 100 exhibitors are participating and where buyers and sellers make valuable contacts. And don’t miss the Meet the Buyers reception at the end of the day — a great opportunity for buyers and sellers to connect and discuss deals!

• Friday’s events connect major wholesale buyers with producers and growers. Those companies and organizations providing speakers and in attendance will include Whole Foods Market, the nation’s largest chain of natural and organic groceries; UNFI, the largest independent distributor of natural and organic products; Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center; Chicago’s Goodness Greeness, one of the nation’s longest-running organic food hubs; the Chicago Public Schools; the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition; and the Local Food Association.

• The all-star lineup for the School Food Opening Symposium includes Dr. Gail Christopher of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation; Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition; Fred Kirschenmann of New York’s Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture; Erika Allen of Growing Power, who will discuss an initiative to persuade the City of Chicago to enact a Good Food Procurement Policy for schoolchildren and others reliant on city food purchases; and Michael O’Gorman of the Farmer Veteran Coalition.

• The Food Policy Track will feature a distinguished panel discussing one of the most crucial health and food safety issues of the day: “A Prescription for Change: Health Impacts of Antibiotic Overuse in Meat Production.”

•  The Friday program includes a special showing of the documentary film OMG GMO, presented by the Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant chain. The movie focuses on one of the most highly discussed and debated issues of the day: the spreading use of genetically modified plants in the national and international agriculture system.

• Meet the Buyers Reception: This great gathering will take place from 5:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. on-site at the UIC Forum. It presents a great opportunity for wholesale buyers to connect with farmers and food businesses that are producing locally grown fruits and vegetables, responsibly raised meats, and sustainably packaged products. Each buyer organization will have a table at the reception to network with hundreds of attendees looking to grow their markets.  Refreshments and drinks will be provided.



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