FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Business Accelerator (GFA) staged its annual Application Celebration and Networking Event at Chicago’s 1871 business incubator on Tuesday. It included a panel of four GFA graduates moderated by Scott Mandell, a program “supermentor” who founded hugely successful Enjoy Life Foods. And when Scott asked the alums about the biggest change in their businesses fostered by the Accelerator, the response by Mitch Wasserman of Full Belly Foods drew chuckles from the full-house audience.
Farm dinners have become a popular facet of “agritourism,” with farms working with chefs to bring “farm to table” dining back to the source. Dozens are held each year just in the Chicago food region alone. But most of the participating farms are well out in the country, requiring a day trip or an overnight stay. That location is what makes The Talking Farm’s dinner on Sept. 10 distinctive. The farm is just outside Chicago’s city limits and a short Sunday drive for most residents of the metropolitan area.
“Farm to table” dining may have become commonplace on Chicago’s restaurant menus. But Chef Paul Virant was in the vanguard of the movement just 13 years when he opened Vie restaurant in the suburb of Western Springs. And he is all about giving back to the community. Within a recent three-day span, Paul did a cooking demo with the Gardeneers audience for schoolchildren in Englewood, then was the honoree for Angelic Organics Learning Center at their annual dinner.
Those involved in the Good Food movement believe that if we are going to build a better food system, we need to start promoting healthier habits among our youngest eaters. Since 2005, Chicago nonprofit Purple Asparagus has put that belief to action, bringing its engaging food literacy program to children kindergarten to 2nd grade in selected Chicago schools.
Pilot Light is the chef-driven program that helps Chicago Public Schools integrate food and nutrition education into their students’ overall curriculum. And the nonprofit organization is prepping for its biggest expansion yet, adding eight schools to its lineup for a total of 14 around the city of Chicago.
Making the food system healthier has always been a pillar of the Good Food movement and FamilyFarmed. Our organization is developing a program called Good Food Is Good Medicine, which will be bringing ready-to-use information about healthier lives through better diets to community settings, with a heavy emphasis on underserved communities with high rates of diet-related illness.
Pilot Light is a nonprofit organization founded by some of Chicago’s top Good Food chefs to bring food education to students in Chicago Public Schools. And even though school’s out for the summer, Pilot Light is doing events around town to spread the word about its important social mission.
The first thing you notice if you visit a school with a Learning Garden from The Kitchen Community non-profit organization is … joy. The chance to get their instruction outdoors instead of in the classroom — learning to put seeds in soil, nurture the plants, and then harvest the food they have grown — is something the children really seem to relish. Yet it may take a few years, at least for the little ones, to realize what serious purposes are behind this fun school time.
Imagine a school teaching Chicago children from kindergarten through 12th grade on a seven-acre campus — three of those acres devoted to urban agriculture — designed by famed architect Jeanne Gang’s Studio Gang. Imagine this school incorporating local citizenship, sustainability, Good Food, social justice and other values into its curriculum… serving organic, locally sourced, made-from-scratch food in its cafeteria… and producing more energy than it uses. Then imagine this school is not in an upscale Chicago neighborhood or tony suburb, but rather on the industrial, mostly Hispanic, mostly low-income Southwest Side. That is the vision for the expansion of the Academy for Global Citizenship — for which the charter school’s foundation will raise money at its 5th Annual Chefs Playground on June 9 at the Art Institute of Chicago.
FamilyFarmed is a natural ally for star singer-songwriter Jack Johnson, an environmentalist and supporter of sustainable food. We also are benefitting from the financial generosity of his All At Once Network, which matches donations to dozens of non-profit organizations. But FamilyFarmed learned that Jack Johnson is generous with something extra — his time — when we attended his June 2 concert at Chicago’s Huntington Bank Pavilion to participate in the “Village Green” with other local non-profits.
It is alway a joyous day when FamilyFarmed gets to visit a school garden that gives children the tools to learn how to grow food and other plants. The Kitchen Community nonprofit installed a new garden at Wendell Smith Elementary on Chicago’s far South Side May 30, and the enthusiasm of the children who helped in the planting was infectious. But the trip was even more rewarding, because a $2 million donation to The Kitchen Community from Wells Fargo Bank was announced at a ceremony at the end of the installation
Visiting Growing Home’s urban farm would be a great field trip for FamilyFarmed wherever it was located. But Growing Home’s location, at 5814 S. Wood Street, and the social mission that it entails is what makes this nonprofit organization truly amazing: It is in the heart of West Englewood, a neighborhood of about 35,000 residents — nearly all African American — that has suffered from decades of job and population loss, economic decline and high crime rates.
When you are throwing a big party, the usual measure of success is whether all good time was had by all. By that standard, the Frontera 30th Anniversary Celebration — marking three decades of Chicago Chef Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill — was a dazzling success. But the event also was a fundraiser for Rick’s Frontera Farmer Foundation and FamilyFarmed… and that also was a success.
The people who attended the Frontera 30th Anniversary Celebration on Sunday (April 30) — to help accelerate the Good Food movement — hopefully will always remember the evening they spent in what we called the Culinary All-Star Food Court. So as our thank you note, we present a photo essay of all of the participating chefs, with links to the chef profile series that Good Food on Every Table published in recent weeks.
Chefs Erling Wu-Bower of Chicago’s Nico Osteria and Cosmo Goss of The Publican are two of the biggest young stars on the city’s and nation’s restaurant scene. So when they went to their boss at the hugely successful One Off Hospitality Group — James Beard Award winning chef Paul Kahan — a few months ago to tell him that they planned to open their own restaurant, Paul says, “Man, my brain exploded.” But Paul himself had benefited from the nurturing and encouragement of the chefs from whom he learned, such as Rick Bayless, and he and his business partners are helping Erling and Cosmo plan and develop their restaurant. All three chefs will participate on Sunday in the Frontera 30th Anniversary Celebration fundraiser at The Art Institute of Chicago.
Jason Hammel of the critically acclaimed Lula Café is a rarity among Chicago’s top chefs, in that he did not learn the craft in the kitchens of culinary legends. Jason is essentially self-taught. But he counts Chicago legends such as Rick Bayless, Paul Kahan and Matthias Merges as his role models and mentors. Like them, he has played a major role in sourcing from local and regional farmers. We are honored to have Jason as a participating chef at the Frontera 30th Anniversary Celebration, a joint fundraiser for Chef Rick Bayless‘ Frontera Farmer Foundation and FamilyFarmed, which will be held at The Art Institute of Chicago on Sunday, April 30.
The record attendance at FamilyFarmed’s 2017 Good Food Festival & Conference in Chicago underscored important points about the Good Food movement’s growing momentum. More than 7,500 people attended the 13th Good Food Festival & Conference, held March 16-18 at the UIC Forum on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus.
Matthias Merges is a leader in Chicago’s culinary community. Matthias also, from very early on, has been deeply committed to making Chicago and its communities better. So it’s not surprising that Chef Rick Bayless, was eager to have Matthias participate in the Frontera 30th Anniversary Celebration, a joint fundraiser for his Frontera Farmer Foundation and FamilyFarmed, which will be held at The Art Institute of Chicago on Sunday, April 30.
We often highlight the potential for Good Food businesses to revitalize economically challenged communities and improve the lives of those who live there. Few businesses combine both of those elements in one person as much as Chicago’s Westside Bee Boyz. Founder Thad Smith’s beekeeping and honey company is still quite small, but he has big dreams for the company. He views it as a platform for community and young entrepreneur development in North Lawndale and other troubled communities in Chicago.
Dr. Ian Smith is the physician developed the SHRED Diet (and SHRED POP popcorn), is a popular TV personality and author, and is the creator of the 50 Million Pound Challenge. FamilyFarmed is pleased that Dr. Smith will take part in an important panel on Food and Mood Saturday at its Good Food Festival. This panel, which will begin at 10:30 a.m., will be followed at 2 p.m. by Good Food is Good Medicine, another expert panel on the profound connections between food and good health.