The city of Chicago, Illinois is full of inspiring organizations working to build a better food system.
These community groups are feeding neighbors, offering job training in the culinary arts, developing urban farms, and so much more. Through this work, they are striving to build stronger local food systems that nourish eaters, support local economies, and protect the environment.
On August 24, 2022, Food Tank heads to Chicago to celebrate the city and its diverse food and agriculture system. In partnership with University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, Illinois Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, Illinois Agri-Food Alliance, The Hatchery, and Chicagoland Food & Beverage, we will explore the intersection of food and technology at our Summit “Technology and the Future of Our Food System.”
Speakers include U.S. Congresswoman Marie Newman (IL-03); U.S. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (IL-09); U.S. Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL-08); Celebrity Chef and Restaurateur Rick Bayless; Sam Acho, ESPN sports analyst, a nine-year veteran of the NFL, a Vice President of the NFL Players Association, and author; Ertharin Cousin, Founder and CEO, Food Systems for the Future; Bill Jackson, Executive Director, Discovery Partners Institute; Danielle Nierenberg, President, Food Tank; Ariel Cheung, Journalist Chicago Tribune’ Brett Chase, Environmental Journalist, Chicago Sun-Times; Monica Eng, Journalist & Podcast Host, AXIOS; Mike Sula, food writer, Chicago Reader; Michelle Relerford, Weekday Morning Co-Anchor, NBC 5 News; Michael Hirtzer, Ag Reporter, Bloomberg; Jean-Pierre Comte, President, Barilla USA; Maryann Byrdak, CIO, Feeding America; Luke Saunders, Founder and CEO, Farmer’s Fridge; Lucie Basch, Co-founder, Too Good To Go; Alan Reed, Executive Director, Chicagoland Food and Beverage Coalition; Tyler Strom, Executive Director, The Illinois Agri-Food Alliance; Sanjeev Krishnan, Chief Investment Officer, S2G Ventures; Karen Sauder, President, Global Client and Agency Solutions and Site Lead for Google Chicago.; Shayna Harris, Managing Partner, Supply Change Capital; Marc Zornes, Founder, Winnow; Natalie Shmulik, CEO, The Hatchery Chicago; Mark Kaplan, Co-Founder, Envisible; Osayanmo Osarenkhoe, Co-Founder, ClearCOGS; Anthony Edwards, Co-Founder, EatOkra; Beth Conerty, Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory and the Food Science Human Nutrition Pilot Processing Plant; Kerri McClimen, Vice President, Niman Ranch/Perdue; and Shelby Parchman, Chief Operating Officer, FamilyFarmed.
Learn more about the event and register now by clicking HERE.
And check out some of the amazing changemakers working to transform Chicago’s food system.
1. Bigger Table
Launched by the Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network (CFBN) in 2020, Bigger Table is a nonprofit that works to identify opportunities to provide charitable and economic growth initiatives. They help to forge new connections between industry stakeholders, promote long-term employment in the culinary industry, and deliver products where the need is greatest.
Through their Windy City Harvest program, The Chicago Botanic Garden helps to bring food, health, and jobs to the local community. In addition to overseeing their 15 farms that produce more than 100,000 pounds of fresh produce each year, they support a network of more than 60 community garden plots and offer cooking and nutrition classes. Through the program, the Garden also provides paid on-the-job training for more than 150 people each year.
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is a nonpartisan organization that works to increase knowledge and engagement on global affairs. Their Center on Global Food and Agriculture is working to advance a more sustainable, resilient food system through reports and policy briefs, expert analysis, and events that bring together leaders from the public and private sectors.
The Chicago Food Policy Action Council (CFPAC) works to ensure that all Chicago residents are able to access and grow culturally relevant and nutritious food that is sustainably produced. CFPAC helps to advance good food purchasing practices, develop urban agriculture in the city, and support food systems research.
Chicagoland Food & Beverage launched in 2017 to help Chicago’s food and beverage industry grow. Their membership includes food and beverages companies of all types sizes, ranging from international manufacturers to small startups. By helping these businesses connect and collaborate, they hope to drive innovation in the region, support local economies, and revitalize the city’s neighborhoods.
A part of the University of Illinois System, Discovery Partners Institute helps Chicago residents launch their tech-centered careers and companies. They do this by training people for tech jobs, conducting applied research and development, and building businesses to strengthen Chicago’s “tech ecosystem.” Among their programs is Food & Ag Scholars, a semester long program that helps students understand how they can use applied computer and data to transform the food and agriculture sector.
Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) envisions a world free from childhood hunger. Working with food science and nutrition professionals, FMSC develops meals to supplement nutritional needs and reduce malnutrition. Since 2009, their programs have reached children in more than 100 countries around the world.
A part of Feeding America, Feeding Illinois is a network of food banks working across the state of Illinois. The organization is made up of more than 2,4000 pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other specialized programs that distribute food to those in need. Each member organization is able to fit the unique needs of the community they serve, helping to ensure that everyone can access healthy meals.
Chef, restaurateur, and television personality Rick Bayless helped launch the Frontera Farmer Foundation in 2003 to support small, sustainable farms in the Chicago area. The Foundation provides local farmers with capital development grants to ensure that they can sustain their business while supporting biodiversity and providing food businesses with fresh, sustainably grown produce.
Gardeeneers works with students in neighborhoods around Chicago, helping youth access fresh food while developing knowledge and skills. In doing so, they strive to address the root causes of injustices in the food system. The organization has reached more than 1,800 students across more than 19 schools.
Getting Grown Collective (GGC) strives to equip Black and Brown communities with the tools they need as they work toward food and land sovereignty. GGC operates multiple gardens, which they use to provide local community members with fresh produce. They also collaborate with the Little VIllage Environmental Justice Organization to organize Black and Brown Farmers’ Exchanges and encourage solidarity between local Black and Latinx farmers.
The Global Garden Refugee Training Farm is an urban farm in the neighborhood of Albany Park. The nonprofit serves a space for refugee families to access fresh produce, form connections with neighbors, and earn supplemental income. They also operate a compost program to keep food waste out of landfills and build soil health.
Launched In 2017, Grow Greater Englewood works to develop local food economies and land sovereignty to ensure everyone can lead safe, healthy, fulfilling lives. They are working to build an African centered community in Engleword to improve community health, produce fresh produce, and protect the land and environment from further harm.
14. Growing Home
As a nonprofit urban farm and workforce development center, Growing Home is helping residents find careers through farm-based education. The organization provides paid job experience and job-readiness training on their farms as well as the support residents require as they manage medical, childcare, and housing needs.
15. I Grow Chicago
I Grow Chicago engaging more than 3,000 residents per year through their programs designed to nurture communities. Operating under the belief that healthy food is a human right, the organization runs a community kitchen to ensure everyone has access to nutritious meals. They also started Peace Garden, an urban farm where they grow fresh food and offer educational opportunities to youth.
Working to drive positive change while meeting the needs of the ever-changing food system, the Illinois Agri-Food Alliance works to champion food and agriculture solutions. They believe that collaboration is essential for change, and strive to provide an environment for stakeholders to engage, network, and develop frameworks and strategies for the future.
The Illinois Food Scrap Coalition (IFSC) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and promoting composting. They offer resources to help businesses and residents connect with composting pickup services, purchase compost, identify nearby compost sites around the state, and start their own compost program.
For more than 30 years, Illinois Hunger Coalition (IHC) has served as a statewide membership organization working to end hunger by addressing its underlying causes. IHC is working to expand programs that reduce poverty, bring federal and state resources to low-income communities, and provide training to support community leaders.
Illinois Stewardship Alliance works to bring more transparency to the food system and empower producers and consumers. They do this by forging connections between farmers, eaters, and policymakers, and helping communities engage more deeply in democratic processes to transform the food system.
20. Impact Culinary
Through their free, 12-week culinary training program, Impact Culinary helps young adults ages 16-24 launch their careers in the hospitality industry. They offer participants an 8-week classroom course followed by a 4-week paid internship in a Chicagoland restaurant. Through the program, students earn their food handling certificate and learn about knife skills, food preparation, cooking methods, nutrition, and job readiness skills.
Founded in 1994, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) is fighting for environmental justice and healthier communities in the Chicago area. Using their Semillas de Justicia Garden as a community hub, they offer knowledge exchanges, free weekly dinners, bike repair workshops, and educational workshops on sustainability and climate adaptation.
22. Nourishing Hope
Through multiple food distribution programs, Nourishing Hope reports that they serve the equivalent of 4 million meals to Chicago residents each year. More than simply a food pantry, the organization also provides mental wellness and other social services to address neighbors’ health holistically. They help to connect families with clothing, toys, and hygiene kits, provide employment resources, offer financial support, and more.
23. Pilot Light
Pilot Light helps students make connections between food, wellness, and community to support the next generation of leaders fighting for a more equitable, sustainable food system. Through their food education programming, they help students make informed dietary decisions and help them develop a lasting, positive relationship with food. The organization also offers free lesson plans to help teachers incorporate food education into traditional school subjects.
By partnering with local restaurants and food businesses, Rescuing Leftover Cuisine (RLC) Chicago is working to reduce food waste and redirect surplus food to homeless shelters, food pantries, and other community-based organizations. RLC Chicago will rescue food of any size in an effort to reduce waste at all levels.
A local chapter of Slow Food International, Slow Food Chicago offers events and programs for residents in and around Chicago. Along with their partners, they also operate the preSERVE garden, where they provide residents with green space and grow fresh fruits and vegetables.
The Hatchery Chicago is a nonprofit food and beverage incubator that works to help Chicago-based entrepreneurs develop successful businesses. They offer business leaders access to commercial kitchen facilities and an entrepreneurship curriculum, while strengthening strengthen local economies through job training and placement programs
The Love Fridge Chicago works to place community fridges around Chicago in an effort to reduce food insecurity. They believe in providing support through solidarity, not charity, and use their mutual aid model to care for their neighbors. Community members can support their work by donating food, helping to maintain and stock fridges, or distributing food from partner organizations.
Operating eight urban farms, primarily located in Chicago’s South Side, Urban Growers Collective (UGC) strives to develop community-based food systems that nourish communities. In addition to growing and selling fresh produce, the organization offers opportunities for staff-led education, training, and leadership development. They also partner with After School Matters to run Youth Corps, a job training program for teens.
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Photo courtesy of Clay Banks, Unsplash