Recently, on March 14, Rachel and I went to the Food Policy Conference at the Good Food Festival, because we're giant nerds. (Seriously, we were talking about it and decided to go for it since neither of us could remember the last time we'd done anything "fun" other than going out to eat - yes, we decided going to a Food Policy Conference would be a good use of our fun money.) We opted to skip the morning symposium and arrived just after 10am to explore the exhibition floor before the first talk.
The first talk we attended was called "Urban Agriculture and Local Food Enterprises" and the panel included a couple speakers presenting on community-focused food and agricultural developments in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. There was also a representative from the City of Chicago's Planning and Development department. The panel finished up with a speaker from Cleveland's Green City Growers, one of the Evergreen Cooperative's community-owned, job-creating companies that focuses on farming in their city. The panel was illuminating and a good introduction to our day. We hope to give you a more detailed post of some of these organizations in later posts.
After this panel, we got a whole hour for lunch and some time to browse around the exhibition floor. We got a kale burger from Green Spirit, a pulled pork sandwich from Gunthorp Farms, and mac and cheese with bacon sausage from Big Fork. We usually take the opportunity to eat meat when we can be sure of the production practices behind it, so we chose the pork and sausage because they were locally sourced from farms we trust. The kale burger was from a small vegan restaurant in Rogers Park, and the best thing about it was the beet ketchup. Go figure. After eating, we nabbed some Butter Bella cookies for later and talked to the folks from Seeds of Change. Seeds of Change was giving away cool bags and free grocery items, like jars of tikka masala sauce. We never say no to free food.
After lunch, we went to our next panel session on "Creating Justice and Food-Secure Communities with Sustainable Methods," which featured more speakers from the south side of Chicago, working on various projects related to alleviating food deserts and giving people more agency when they are making choices about what they eat. Most striking from this bunch was Naomi Davis from Blacks in Green, who not only gave us a full picture of their vision for a fully walk-able economy in West Woodlawn, but was also inspiring in a general sense. Here is a quote from Blacks in Green's website:
"We serve as bridge and catalyst among communities and their stakeholders in the design and development of “walk-to-work, walk-to-shop, walk-to-learn, walk-to-play villages” within black neighborhoods...our walkable villages are designed to increase household income, by increasing the rate at which neighbor-owned businesses are created and sustained, thus keeping resident money active locally, supporting community self interests, and preserving the heritage of a place. Thus, we address the terrible triplets of pollution, poverty, and plutocracy."
Pretty inspiring, right? I know, here in Edgewater, we have some semblance of this, especially when the majority of our work, food, and play takes place within walking distance. It's not meant to say we never want to leave the neighborhood, merely that the ideal sphere for human interaction and community building is within a 1/4-1/2 mile radius of your home. Click through to Blacksingreen.org to learn more about their Eight Principles of Green Village Building. Clearly, this is fodder for a whole post separate post, as well.
Finally, we thought Rachel would find the "Good Food U - How can Chicago-area higher education support healthy local food?" session a very interesting melding of her professional interests, but about 10 minutes in, we decided to try a different session (mostly because they wanted a group discussion and we wanted to listen and learn). We hopped over to the session on "Fair Food for Global Sustainability" just as Sharon Hoyer from the Dill Pickle Co-op in Logan Square was finishing up her presentation about Fair Trade Bananas. We, unfortunately, missed the opening remarks from Nancy Jones of Chicago Fair Trade, but the information about bananas was fascinating (we hope to do a post about Fair Trade in the near future, but for now, check out this video about the bananas!). Then our favorite speaker of the day, Eric Rodriguez from Café Chicago, started telling us about the issues with undocumented day workers in the Midwest and his group's initiatives to give them more agency and power to control the type of work they do. Café Chicago is a coffee roasting cooperative based on these concepts and we are 100% hoping to sit down with Eric at some point and possibly visit their location for more information, but their website gives a succinct run-down of what they do:
"Café Chicago is a worker-made, worker-run cooperative that roasts, packages, and distributes great tasting, fair trade, organic coffee in the Chicago area. With a new model of job creation, job training, and social action that create living wage jobs and provide training in coffee roasting and cooperative management, the for-profit Café Chicago also funds the social justice organizing of Latino Union at a time of dwindling non-profit funding. "
We left that presentation feeling inspired to buy Fair Trade across the board, and if we ever need coffee, a bag of Café Chicago coffee will be the first place we turn. About four days later, we were at True Nature Foods and right there on the shelf was freshly roasted coffee from Café Chicago. It's very exciting that organizations like this exist and that their products are readily available all over the city!
We then headed back to the exhibition hall for some serious snacking and chatting with reps from all the delightful, local food organizations and companies. I'm not going wear out our welcome and list everyone we talked to but some highlights were The Brinery (delicious fermented veggies from Ann Arbor looking to get more into the Chicago market), Mo Rub (meat/dip/veggie seasoning from Iowa now available at some Chicago-area Whole Foods), the Illinois Stewardship Alliance (advocacy group supporting our local food system), and the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship (national group of lawyers, based at U of C in Chicago, who focus on providing pro bono legal advice and support for new business owners in the city, specifically local food businesses).
It was a very full day and we learned a lot, but the Friday version of the Good Food Festival is not for everyone. Last year we went on Saturday, and that was more our speed at the time. There are more booths in the exhibition hall, and the presentations are focused on topics like "Brew Your Own Beer" or "Home Butchery and Curing" or "Food Co-ops 101", that kind of thing. It's more focused on things you can do at home and less so on things that are happening in the community and the world of urban agriculture. We're hoping to make it to both Friday and Saturday next year, if we have the energy! (Also, we didn't even mention the Localicious Party! We didn't make it this year, but hope to budget for it next year. It's a party celebrating "the farmers who grow our food and the chefs who transform it.") The moral of the story is that if you like food, the Good Food Festival has something of interest for you, so you should check it out next year!