FamilyFarmed has been a leader, for more than two decades, in the effort to build a better food system, one that urges everyone to eat food produced as locally as possible using sustainable, humane and fair practices. Our enduring goals are a healthier, more environmentally sustainable and more economically dynamic food system. Our vision is Good Food On Every Table, with delicious, healthy, local and sustainable food available to all regardless of demographics, geography and economic circumstances.
FamilyFarmed succeeds in its efforts by bringing together farmers, food producers, trade buyers, investors, individuals, families and other key stakeholders. We have helped grow the sales of Good Food, facilitated financing for food and farm businesses, and inspired entrepreneurs and NGOs toward greater innovation.
This passion for expanding the markets for Good Food is reflected in FamilyFarmed’s network of established programs.
Naturally Chicago is a community-based program, launched by FamilyFarmed in May 2019, that embodies Chicago’s role as an international center for Good Food and Natural Products. Naturally Chicago is affiliated with the Naturally Network based in Boulder, Colorado, and is co-founded by KeHE Distributors, Presence Marketing and SPINS, three Chicago companies that have played major roles in the exponential growth of this sector.
Naturally Chicago is fulfilling a major need in the fast-growing but diffuse Good Food and Natural Products industry, providing a year-round platform for entrepreneurship, innovation, thought leadership and business development. The program is centered on weekly, monthly, quarterly and pop-up events that, for the first time, build community by providing regular opportunities for businesses across the industry sector to network, collaborate and share ideas that will accelerate the consumer market for Good Food and Natural Products.
Production of food and other consumer products has been in Chicago’s DNA since its earliest days. Our city played a major role in the industrialization of U.S. food and consumer products during the 19th and 20th centuries. In our era, Chicago has become a magnet for people pushing for a more decentralized system, based on food and other natural products produced as locally as possible, using regenerative, humane and fair practices that are better for people, better for the planet and better for animals. Naturally Chicago aims to take this good food revolution to a higher level.
The Good Food Financing and Innovation Conference — created in 2009 as part of FamilyFarmed’s landmark Good Food EXPO — is converted to a stand-alone, one-day event in June at Chicago’s Morgan Manufacturing events space. The Good Food Accelerator (GFA), launched in 2014, plays a central role in the event, which features a keynote speech by John Foraker, CEO of the Once Upon a Farm organic fresh baby food company and former CEO of the wildly successful Annie’s Homegrown; presentations by fast-rising Good Food entrepreneurs; expert panels on subjects ranging from Good Food investing to “Big Food” interest in Good Food enterprises; an assessment of the Good Food landscape in Chicago by leaders from New Hope Network, SPINS, Presence Marketing and KeHE Distributors; and a business Pitch Slam won by Mark Muller of ready to BRANDS, a 2018 graduate of the Good Food Accelerator. More than 55 investors attend and about 70 businesses applied to participate in the Pitch Slam. Together, the Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference and Good Food Accelerator had helped stimulate more than $80 million in financing deals for Good Food entrepreneurs as of October 2018.
FamilyFarmed receives a grant of nearly $500,000 from the USDA’s Local Food Promotion Program that enables the organization to pursue the development of GFA Extension (GFAx) and GFA+, two expansions of the successful Good Food Accelerator program. The expansions are aimed at provided tailored services to entrepreneurs whose needs either do not require the full six-month Good Food Accelerator program or who do not have the time to participate in the full course, and a special focus is planned in these new programs to recruit early-stage entrepreneurs from underserved communities. The Good Food Accelerator also launches an Associate Board to provide new fundraising and entrepreneur development capabilities.
FamilyFarmed creates an Organic Grain Promotion Initiative (OGPI) with funding from Nature’s Path and UNFI to help farmers, buyers, bakers, distillers and brewers better meet the growing demand for sustainably produced, artisan and heirloom grains. OGPI is managed by FamilyFarmed’s Market Development department.
FamilyFarmed in October 2018 launches a fresh, modern website including Good Food News, a full-scale, photo-forward website, replacing the Good Food On Every Table blog created in 2014. Good Food News is embedded in the upgraded and modernized FamilyFarmed.org, home site, which also includes the Good Food Accelerator, Good Food Is Good Medicine, Farmer Training, and Market Development program sites.
Image: Simple Mills CEO Katlin Smith spoke at the 2018 Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference.
FamilyFarmed’s nationally renowned Farmer Training program — founded in 2008 with the publication of the Wholesale Success manual — initiates its two biggest expansions to date in its Farmer Training program. The first is publication of Direct Market Success: A Farmer’s Guide to Farmers Market, CSA, Farmstand, Online and Restaurant Sales, a 300+-page manual with a strong focus on the needs of young and beginning farmers — the new generation needed by this nation, where the average age of farmers is roughly 60. The second is creation of specially focused workshops centered on a newly created On-Farm Food Safety binder, for farmers whose biggest need is a better understanding of food safety and the related business and regulatory landscape.
Image: The Direct Market Success manual is part of FamilyFarmed's Farmer Training program.
FamilyFarmed collaborates with the non-profit Frontera Farmer Foundation, founded by Chef Rick Bayless, on the Frontera 30th Anniversary Celebration, a joint fundraiser held April 30, 2017 at The Art Institute of Chicago that marked the opening of Bayless’ landmark Frontera Grill in 1987. The event features a keynote speech by Bayless, a farm-to-table pioneer in sourcing from local farmers in the Midwest region; a Good Food Forum with a panel of leading experts across the Good Food spectrum including Paul Kahan, Fedele Bauccio, Nora Pouillon, Jim Slama, and Eduardo Rivera of Sin Fronteras farm in Minnesota. It also includes a world-class tasting event featuring samples from culinary icons such as Paul Kahan, Matthias Merges, Jason Hammel, Stephanie Izard, Abe Conlin and Ming Tsai. The event generates $300,000 in proceeds divided evenly between FamilyFarmed and Frontera Farmer Foundation, which has made more than $2 million in outright grants to small and medium-sized farms in the Midwest.
Image: The Frontera 30th Anniversary Celebration fundraiser drew 700 people to the Art Insitute to celebrate Rick Bayless, family farmers, and Good Food!
An appearance at the 2016 Good Food EXPO by Dr. Melinda Ring — executive director of Northwestern Medicine’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine — leads to the ongoing development of Good Food Is Good Medicine. This FamilyFarmed program is aimed at providing consumers and communities with better access to information about the powerful connections between food, health and prevention of diet-related diseases, such as diabetes, obesity and hypertension, that have grown to epidemic proportions. FamilyFarmed is currently building upon the momentum created by Good Food Is Good Medicine programming at the 2017, 2018 and 2019 Good Food EXPOs, a symposium held at Northwestern Medicine in 2016, and a Good Food Is Good Medicine presentation during a Cancer Connections event at the Lurie Center in 2017.
Image: Attendees at a Good Food Is Good Medicine event at the 2018 Good Food EXPO.
Though the Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference had already underscored financiers’ increasing interest in the Good Food sector, FamilyFarmed receives feedback from investors that many promising early-stage entrepreneurs need more polished business plans, presentations and deals. This spurs FamilyFarmed to create the Good Food Accelerator, which is unveiled at the 2014 Good Food EXPO by Jim Slama, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Whole Foods Market co-CEO Walter Robb. Launched with financial assistance from the USDA, U.S. Small Business Administration, Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, Food:Land:Opportunity and Whole Foods Market, the Accelerator recruits and launches its first cohort of competitively selected entrepreneurs in November 2014. The Accelerator Fellows benefit from an intensive six-month curriculum based at 1871 Chicago, industry-leading mentors, networking opportunities, access to investors and more. Over its first four years, the Accelerator graduates 35 Fellows, 32 of whose businesses are still operating.
Image: Group shot at announcement of the Good Food Accelerator launch included Mari Gallagher, FamilyFarmed CEO, Jim Slama, Lauren Rosenthal, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, 1871 CEO Howard Tullman, Crain's Publisher David Snyder, Whole Foods Regional President Michael Bashaw, and Whole Foods Market CO-CEO Walter Robb.
FamilyFarmed makes the first major expansion of its Farmer Training program by creating the On-Farm Food Safety website, which provides farmers with easy-to-use tools that enable them to create their own food safety plans. Such plans help protect the health of consumers and the viability of farmers’ businesses, and increasingly are demanded by wholesale and retail buyers to ensure that the products they are selling to consumers are safe to eat.
Image: FamilyFarmed's On-Farm Food Safety website.
Rising consumer demand is driving exponential growth in the Good Food industry, and by the end of the century’s first decade, investors are starting to show serious interest in promising early-stage companies in the sector. FamilyFarmed responds by partnering with the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business to create the Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference as the first day of what was then a three-day Good Food EXPO at the UIC Forum on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus. Kathleen Merrigan, then the new deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), gives the Conference’s first keynote speech, and is joined by Woody Tasch (author of Slow Money, a groundbreaking book on Good Food investment) and Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Tom Jennings in launching the event.
Image: Kathleen Merrigan, new U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, gave the keynote at the first Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference produced in partnership with the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Facilitating connections between local farmers and food buyers has been a core mission since the beginnings of FamilyFarmed. After hearing from wholesale buyers about the need for farmer training in the areas of post-harvest handling, food safety and packing, FamilyFarmed creates the 1st edition of Wholesale Success: A Farmers’ Guide to Food Safety, Selling, Postharvest Handling, and Packing Produce. This 300+ page manual — aimed at providing instruction in best practices for farmers seeking to sell to retail, wholesale, restaurant and institutional buyers — becomes the core of a national renowned Farmer Training program that has provided more than 14,700 farmers in 43 states with best-practices instruction.
Image: The 1st Edition of FamilyFarmed's Wholesale Success manual.
FamilyFarmed early logo after its transition from Sustain, an environmental advocacy organization.
The Local Organic Trade Show is launched in 2004 to help give farmers and food producers better access to markets. This one-day event is held at Kendall College, Chicago’s leading culinary school, and features 50 farmers, 300 attendees and keynotes by Whole Foods Market’s Jeff Turnas and chef Paul Kahan, a pioneer in Chicago’s farm-to-table movement. Over time, the event becomes the Good Food EXPO, the largest and most successful trade show in America that promotes locally and sustainably produced food.
The success of the Good Food EXPO, and the need for programs to build a better, healthier, more environmentally sustainable and more economically dynamic food system, inspires the Board of Directors to change the organization’s name from Sustain — which took a broad approach to environmental advocacy — to FamilyFarmed. Over the next 15 years, the EXPO grows into a multi-day event, held each March, that includes a trade show — featuring more than 100 of the Midwest’s best food and farm producers and attracting many of the region’s largest food buyers — plus the Good Food Festival, FamilyFarmed’s big public celebration of the Good Food movement, with about 175 vendors, demos by leading chefs, DIY workshops, family-friendly activities, and much more.
Image: Attendees at the Local Organic Trade Show that launched the Good Food EXPO.
Sustain embarks on an assessment of the market for local and organic food in the Chicago area. The organization also looks at challenges facing producers, especially market access. It culminates with the publishing of "Organic Harvest: An Action Plan for the Local, Organic, and FamilyFarmed Foods."
Image: Sustain's Organic Harvest report.
An effort to expand oil and gas drilling under the Great Lakes was stanched by public opposition in the late 1990s, but a Michigan legislative proposal in 2001 sought to revive the idea. Sustain joins with other activist organizations to stage the “Oil and Water Don’t Mix” campaign that supports efforts by sympathetic lawmakers in Lansing and Washington to block the drilling. The campaign succeeds in early 2002 when both chambers of the Michigan legislature overwhelming approve legislation permanently barring such drilling.
Image: This Sustain ad helped to block oil drilling under the Great Lakes in Michigan.
Sustain discovers that Congress only pretends to recycle — in reality they were throwing everything out in the garbage — and responds by developing an integrated Recycling Congress marketing campaign including a video investigation, a full-page New York Times ad and a press conference on Capitol Hill featuring five members of Congress. Congress gets the message and develops an authentic recycling program with staff, goals and training programs.
Image: This New York Times Ad and multimedia campaign helped Sustain to persuade Congress to institute an effective recycling program.
Sustain partners with the Organic Trade Association and Citizens for Health to develop the Keep Organic Organic Campaign. This campaign uses national ads, flyers, postcards, and saveorganic.org (the first major use of the Internet in an advocacy campaign) to protect the integrity of the first federal organic standards. The effort helps drive 275,000 public comments in opposition to proposed rules that would have allowed USDA Organic certification for food that was genetically engineered, irradiated and/or grown in sewage sludge. As a result of the campaign, the USDA completely revises the regulations to protect the integrity of organic food.
Image: Sustain's Keep Organic Organic campaign featured this national ad and poster which helped generate 275,000 comments in support of strong organic standards.
Slama launches Sustain as a non-profit organization focused on environmental communications, with $400,000 funding from the David K. Hardin Generativity Trust. Sustain rapidly becomes one of the leading non-profit communications groups in America.
Image: Sustain logo.
Jim Slama — then founder/owner of Conscious Choice, a holistic lifestyle magazine — teams up with environmental activist John Beske on a campaign to draw attention to Chicago’s Northwest Incinerator. The incinerator was emitting 150,000 pounds of lead per year, and the campaign’s ads and flyers feature Michelle and LaShondra, children who lived near the garbage burner and suffered from lead poisoning. The Incinerator is shuttered within a year — and a seed is planted in Slama’s mind.
Image: This ad created strong outrage in Chicago citizens and led to a shut down of a Chicago incinerator putting 150,000 pounds of lead into the air.