Helping Change the Way We Eat at the Good Food Festival & Conference

I was honored to participate at the Good Food Festival & Conference (GFFC) in Chicago late last week. The annual event is organized by Family Farmed.org under the leadership of Jim Slama, the organization’s president and local food movement passionate.

The Family Farmed mission is to expand the production, marketing and distribution of locally grown and responsibly produced food to enhance the social, economic and environmental health of our communities. Having healthy good food produced as close to home as possible by family farmers and producers that use sustainable, humane and fair practices is a core objective.

The GFFC provides a platform to link local farmers and family-owned producers of food and farm products with the public, trade buyers and industry leaders to foster relationships and facilitate growth of local food systems. Unlike traditional food shows, Good Food is geared to connect the often disparate functions of food finance, policy, education and farming.

Good Food Finance

Day One of the GFFC is dedicated to the business side of food production at the Financing Conference. National and regional leaders in farming, food production and finance provide education and help create channels for small farms and local businesses to access capital for financing growth.

One of the educational presentations given this year was by Erin Guyer of Whole Foods Market. Guyer talked about the company’s $8 million social investment program providing low interest loans to small-scale and start-up food producers for expansion. Local businesses also learned about financing options such as Crowd Funding, the Chicago Community Loan Fund and First Farm Credit Services. Many attendees would not normally have the opportunity to learn about such things if not for the conference.

The second part of Day One is spent at the Good Food Financing Fair. Designed in a walk-around format, the fair provides a dynamic environment where farms and food businesses can meet one-on-one with investors, economic development specialists and other experts to develop relationships. Companies may also set up tables to showcase their products for investors to learn more. Contacts are made, and knowledge is shared in one convenient setting.

Good Food Symposium & Policy Summit

Day Two brings together national and local business leaders to share their experiences in taking the Good Food Movement to a higher level.

Major announcements were made last week by foodservice directors from the Chicago Public Schools, McCormick Place and Midway Airport on new commitments to purchase local food and anti-biotic free meat and poultry.

Recognition was also made for Good Food Business Leadership to Bob Scaman from Goodness Greeness for supporting local farmers and organic food. Farmer of the Year awards were given to farmers, Alex Needham and Alison Parker of Radical Rood Farm, and farm mentors, Matt and Peg Sheaffer of Sandhill Family Farms.

The quest to improve access for Chicago residents to culturally appropriate nutritionally sound and affordable food grown through environmentally sustainable ways is led by the Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council.

Food policy focus was made on building urban farms and community food systems to use local food as an economic tool. Keynote speakers discussed methods to engage the community to improve healthy neighborhood food options. Ideally, if a local community can connect to the local Good Food Movement in an organized manner everyone benefits from the symbiotic relationship. The Policy Summit facilitates these connections and provides the tools to leverage them.

Good Food Trade Show

More than 300 local farmers, distributors and artisanal food producers exhibited at the Trade Show on the last two days of the festival. Sponsor support from Organic Valley, Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition  and others, helped promote the Good Food Community and provide a platform for food producers to present their products to trade buyers and other stakeholders.

Buedel Fine Meats partnered with sponsor/exhibitor Red Meat Market, an online/offline social marketplace where meat buyers easily source and order local sustainable meat in one place from multiple local providers. Red Meat showcases all natural, organic and grass-fed beef, pork and lamb products raised in SW Wisconsin and Northern Illinois from over 100 family farms.

We featured live butcher and cooking demos in our booth geared to show people how they can easily butcher and cook local meats for tasty and economical meals at home. Our line-up was extensive: Ben Harrison of Whole Foods Market showed how to breakdown a leg of lamb provided by local Slagel Family Farm, Chef Ryan Hutmacher of the Centered Chef  showed how to make delicious lamb kabob gyros on whole wheat pita, Buedel’s own “Pete the Butcher” (Peter Heflin) demonstrated how to breakdown grass fed beef tenderloin and roll & tie a grass fed beef rib roast provided by Red Meat Market, Chef Alex Lee showed how to cook a simple pan fry with a unique salsa verde and Joe Parajecki, head butcher at  Standard Market and award winning sausage maker, prepared a special St. Patrick’s Day sausage recipe.  (To say that we had a fun, and eventful food experience at our booth would be an understatement.)

Good Food Events & Workshops

The last day of the GFFC is traditionally filled with a plethora of knowledge workshops and events geared to public awareness. This year attendees could choose from adventures such as the, Urban & Vertical Farm Tours, Home Cheese Making and the Kimchi Challenge which pitted Chicago Chefs against one other in the art of fermentation. (Elizabeth David of Green Zebra is now the new champion.) Other local Chefs, such as, Rick Bayless (Xoxo, Frontera Grill, Topolobampo), Carrie Nahabedian (Naha) and Paul Virant (Perennial Virant, Vie) conducted cooking demonstrations pairing local farmers’ products with their own uniquely creative culinary skills.

The Good Food Festival & Conference started in 2004. Each year it grows larger as more of us take the time to understand where our food comes from and interest in supporting local communities.

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From the desk of John Cecala  Twitter @ Buedel Fine Meats Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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