Chicago Local Food System Study Released

November 15, 2018

Food:Land:Opportunity is pleased to announce the release of the Chicago Local Food System Study: An Analysis of Opportunity for Local Foods, which sets a baseline of the capacity of the Chicago region to satisfy the demand for local food. The study is presented in the form of a website, organized in five parts: an economic analysis of various growth scenarios and benefits of sustainably produced local produce and grains; a policy and program scan to understand how regulations and programs currently drive and deter the local food movement; a strategy to measure the ecosystem services provided by on-farm practices in the local food system; a review of the various studies, articles and resources on food system planning and policy; and a set of conclusions and recommendations. View the study online.

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New FLO Projects Focus on Land Access and Food Distribution

October 10, 2018

Land Trusts, Land Access and Local Food
The Land Conservancy of McHenry County will lead a project to explore agricultural easements as a means for securing land for farming.

South Cook County Land Access
NeighborSpace will partner with the Chicago Food Policy Action Council to transition land in south Cook County for sustainable agriculture. Funding will also allow NeighborSpace to continue their land access work in the Englewood neighborhood.

Farm to Neighbor Program
Top Box Foods and This Old Farm developed a food distribution program tapping an existing supply chain serving Chicago schools. Now they are partnering again to bring local and sustainable protein to employees of large corporate and institutional workplaces.
We are also pleased to announce renewal funding for one of the finalist projects of the 2016 Food to Market Challenge: Dream Distributors, the local food aggregation and processing hub continues its efforts to connect local farmers with institutions in Kane County. Renewal funding will allow them to develop necessary readiness programs targeting farmers, institutional buyers and food hub operators.
Update on Catalyzing Conservation Grazing in the Chicago Foodshed
Earlier this year, Food:Land:Opportunity provided funding to Openlands to explore the possible conversion of an approximately 265-acre former golf course in McHenry County, Illinois into a large-scale, sustainable grazing operation. Results from a soil sampling, performed as part of the due diligence, led Openlands to determine that the property was unsuitable for a sustainable grazing operation. Read about the process, actions and lessons learned in their report.

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Liberty Prairie Foundation Launches Website for Local Food

July 13, 2018

Liberty Prairie Foundation has launched a new website to help people in Lake County find locally grown food. Grow Lake County is designed to make it easier for people to find and purchase local food, find tips and local resources to help them grow their own food, learn about the local food movement in Lake County and about what is happening in their community, and find ways to get involved.


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Two New Projects Funded through Food:Land:Opportunity

July 2, 2018

New projects funded through FLO will support urban growers and promote regenerative farming practices in Illinois:

Urban Growers Certification Program
Advocates for Urban Agriculture (AUA) will develop a certification program for urban growers to elevate and scale the success of urban agriculture. AUA will focus on providing necessary technical assistance to growers on city land.

Developing Capacity for Regenerative Farming
ReGenerate IL and the IDEA Farm Network will bring about systems to regenerate soil, water and biodiversity in Illinois, while creating local food options and economic opportunities for farmers. 

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FLO Grantees in the News!

June 28, 2018

Food to Market Challenge finalist and recent grantee, Farm on Ogden (F.O.O.D) officially opened its doors this past weekend. The project brings local food, health and wellness programs, and job training together in one location. Their story was featured in the Chicago Tribune, on WTTW's Chicago Tonight and WGN News.

Shelly Herman, representing the Fresh Picks Farmer Alliance, was recently featured on local news giving tips on how to keep fruits and veggies fresh during the summer. Another one of our Challenge finalists, the Alliance is distributing and marketing products through a network of farm-based aggregation hubs near Chicago.

And Seven Generations Ahead recently consulted on the development of a compost pilot project at the Lake County jail, where approximately 80 percent of the total waste stream at the prison is food waste and six percent is recyclable materials. Currently, all waste goes to the building’s compactor, which results in higher costs for frequent pick-ups and more volume entering landfills.

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New Projects Funded through Food:Land:Opportunity

February 21, 2018

Englewood Community Farms
Grow Greater Englewood (GGE) has been a core community partner in FLO's Urban Pathways project. Leveraging this experience, GGE will develop a business model for Englewood Community Farms, a for-profit farming enterprise. The goal is to establish farming enterprises through cooperative business models that include land tenure agreements and identification and remediation of appropriate parcels for farming.

Catalyzing Conservation in the Chicago Foodshed
Openlands will develop a project to convert a 200-plus acre property in McHenry County into a large-scale sustainable grazing operation. Previously, Food:Land:Opportunity funded Openlands and Liberty Prairie Foundation to explore viable land access strategies. The grazing project will illustrate the potential economic and environmental benefits of sustainable grazing while bringing locally-raised, grass-fed proteins to the Chicago market.

Food Scrap Compost Market-building
Seven Generations Ahead (SGA) has received renewal funding for its project to scale the local food scrap composting industry in the region. As a result of FLO-supported research and pilot projects, SGA is leading composting projects with institutions, educating policymakers and helping to promote composting for economic development.

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Team Leverage launched its food box program at Clemente High School on December 6, 2017.

Food to Market Challenge Winner Launches Food Box Programs

December 18, 2017

On December 6, students and staff at Clemente High School received their first delivery of food boxes as part of the new Farm to Community Food Box program developed by Team Leverage, winner of the Food to Market Challenge. Team Leverage team members, FarmLogix, Top Box Foods and This Old Farm, developed the idea for scaling the supply of local food in Chicago, using Chicago Public Schools (CPS) as delivery sites. The launch at Clemente is the first demonstration of a local food delivery system at CPS that will expand in 2018 to include at least 10 additional school sites.

How it works

The CPS food box program taps into an existing relationship between FarmLogix and Aramark CPS. Since 2013, their Food to School program has provided locally sourced food for the CPS menu 12 times per month. The Team Leverage food box program brings the same local food model to homes. CPS students, their families and other members of the community can order food boxes online and then pick up at school locations. The school sites are situated in neighborhoods that lack access to healthy and affordable food. And participating schools must be able to store refrigerated and frozen products.

Logistically, the program uses an existing supply chain. Each month, CPS’ food distributor receives and stores inventory from This Old Farm and then makes delivery on the days when other Farm to School products are scheduled, avoiding additional delivery fees and fuel costs. Linda Mallers, president of Farm Logix says, “The key to this program is leveraging existing relationships. I’ve worked with This Old Farm on a local meat program for Loyola University since 2015, so I was already familiar with their products and knew they could help us create this program. And we already had a relationship with Aramark CPS. This all came together because of demonstrated experience and established networks.”

Food box delivery

Delivering food boxes is a model that Top Box Foods has been using for almost six years to bring healthy food directly into the communities where healthy food options are limited. Using volunteers and partnering with a community network, Top Box makes deliveries of food boxes that translate to about 40,000 meals each month. As a result of the Challenge, Top Box has been able to expand their box offering to include meat that is locally and sustainably sourced.

In addition to offering meat boxes at over 20 established delivery sites, the award allowed Top Box to open up new routes to Evanston Township High School and to Olive-Harvey College, with plans to expand to all seven Chicago City Colleges in 2018. Sheila Kennedy, executive director of Top Box Foods says, “The Challenge award has allowed us to offer a wide selection of local meats, and the opportunity to expand the number of locations where we operate. The result is not only reaching more people, but now those in underserved communities have better access to quality meats. In 2018, our goal is to sell 3000 local meat boxes and reach about 600 families overall.”

Top Box Foods pop-up event at Olive-Harvey College. (Photo: Top Box Foods)

Local and sustainable

The local food producer supporting the box programs is This Old Farm, a network of over 100 protein farmers based in Colfax, Indiana. When owner Jessica Smith connected with other members of Team Leverage, she was looking for a way to expand into the Chicago market. The box programs are creating the demand that she needs to build her pool of farmers, increasing the amount of local, sustainable meat in the Chicago region.

The Challenge award allowed This Old Farm to scale their operations: building out much-needed cooler space, a retail store, and activating technology to support food transparency. Jessica says, “Technology has been a big investment area for us. The award allowed us to build out basic systems for our operations, to track orders and, importantly, track food safety. Our labels show you the farm the meat came from, but we’re also able to trace back to the individual animal.”

The expansion was something that Jessica needed to do, but she lacked the necessary financing. “What we’ve been able to do since the competition is advance our five-year business plan,” says Jessica. “Once we had the seed capital, we were able to get bank financing.” According to Jessica, there are no national benchmarks for processing facilities, so there isn’t enough data to give banks the comfort and assurance they require. Financial institutions need to see other entities invest in the local food system. Jessica says, “With the seed capital, the bank felt confident loaning to us for our first expansion.”

Jessica Smith (left) speaks with Lenore Beyer from Kinship Foundation about plans for expansion at This Old Farm.

By the numbers

In 2017, Team Leverage distributed over 1000 protein boxes, or over 11,000 pounds of meat, feeding over 46,000 meals to Chicago residents. In 2018, the team expects to add additional sites, increasing sales for This Old Farm’s network of farmers and creating more opportunities for Chicago consumers to access local and sustainable meat products.


Food to Market Challenge finalists advance their projects

The Food to Market Challenge had only a single prize, but there were other compelling ideas that made it to the final round of the competition. This presented an opportunity for the funders of Food:Land:Opportunity. Michael Davidson, senior program officer at The Chicago Community Trust says, “A few months after the competition ended, we followed up with all of the teams to see how they had progressed and if the Challenge had helped to elevate their work, and it turns out it had. Their solutions were all moving forward but needed a boost to continue doing so. Although we couldn’t support the teams at the same funding level as the Challenge winner, we were able to provide the funds they needed to take their solutions to the next level.”

For a few of the finalists, the Challenge was the impetus needed to move a concept into a working program. Irv Cernauskas of Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks is spearheading a network of on-farm aggregation hubs. He says, “The Challenge was a great catalyst for the formation of the Farmer Alliance as a vehicle to move forward our individual team efforts to build the local food system. Articulating our vision led to a significant grant award from the USDA. That’s been huge for us.”

In mid-November, the Kane County Board announced the development of a countywide food hub. The private hub will operate under the name Dream Distributors (the project competed in the Challenge as Good Food Partners Community Food Hub) and offer production, distribution and marketing services to small farms. The concept was the result of a feasibility study and food system plan that identified a food hub as a resource to connect farmers to wholesale buyers that would otherwise not be able to do business with them.

The Farm on Ogden food hub and training center is now fully funded and under construction. Angela Mason, associate vice president of Windy City Harvest at Chicago Botanic garden says, “The Food to Market Challenge helped us refine our vision for the Farm on Ogden and the role of partners. The video and buzz created for the Challenge definitely helped galvanize interest and led, in part, to the project gaining momentum last fall. The facility at the heart of the project—the food hub and training center—will launch operations in January and takes our work in Lawndale a huge step forward. We look forward to contributing to a stronger local food system in Chicago to benefit communities.”

The Artisan Grain Collaborative (AGC) is building demand for new, artisan, food-grade crop varieties in Chicago markets through a systems approach that connects the key players throughout the grain value chain, including chefs, bakers, nonprofits, farmers, millers, and researchers. “While the need to better align the grain value chain has been discussed in the Chicago foodshed for years, the Food to Market Challenge provided the motivation for a variety of practitioners to come together and work under the Artisan Grain Collaborative banner,” says Ben Shorofsky, programs specialist at Delta Institute. “The planning we did during the competition and through the subsequent Food:Land:Opportunity grant has enabled AGC members to begin testing a variety of small-batch crops and develop educational materials to promote local grain use to practitioners and the general public. The team has leveraged this work to receive a highly competitive USDA Local Food Promotion Program Grant in September 2017, which will provide critical support for the AGC over the next three years.”

Lenore Beyer, director of conservation programs for Kinship Foundation says that the Challenge projects have demonstrated the potential for Chicago to organize and scale its local food economy: “We see common themes in all of these projects. Each project uses a different technique to address distribution challenges by creating an integrated food value chain or food hub. But all of the projects are breaking down fragmentation barriers and working collaboratively with new partners. The teams are using innovative methods to tap into existing food distribution systems, creating new networks developed by local food producers. All of these projects validate the strategies advocated by Food: Land: Opportunity to create a resilient local food economy.”

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Kinship Foundation Names Director of Conservation Programs

July 5, 2017

Kinship Foundation has appointed Lenore Beyer as its director of conservation programs. In this newly created position at Kinship, Lenore will manage Food:Land:Opportunity, a multi-year initiative that looks to increase the supply of local food in the Chicago region, and she will support the strategic planning for Kinship Conservation Fellows, an international program that trains conservationists in the application of market-based tools to conservation challenges. Prior to Kinship Foundation, Lenore was the vice president of policy and planning at Openlands.

“We're thrilled to have Lenore join our team,” said Renee Michaels, vice president of Kinship Foundation. “Lenore’s wealth of experience and deep expertise in the field of conservation will be invaluable to Kinship Foundation’s regional and global conservation programs.”

In her 12 years with Openlands, Lenore directed internal and external teams to develop innovative policy solutions, conservation initiatives and community engagement activities that have urban, regional and statewide impact. She planned and implemented Openlands’ policy and advocacy agenda and managed specific projects to protect land, water and natural resources. One of her key achievements was the creation of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge on the border of Illinois and Wisconsin. Additionally, Lenore supervised Openlands’ community engagement activities in the urban landscape, managing signature projects transforming Chicago schoolyards into greenspace and community gardens, and education programs to facilitate connecting people to nature. Prior to Openlands, Lenore was the executive director of the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County, a citizen advocacy organization, where she worked on environmental policy and education issues, including protecting rivers and wetlands, groundwater, sustainable land use, natural landscaping, and waste reduction. Lenore has a B.A. from Oberlin College and an M.B.A. from the University of Illinois.

“I look forward to using my skills and experience at Kinship Foundation to leverage growth of the local sustainable food system and increase conservation success through support of the next generation of environmental leadership,” said Lenore. “I am eager to learn how philanthropy can spur innovation while strategically supporting research, ideas and programs.”

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Common Ground Gathering Brings Farmers Together with Land Owners

June 15, 2017

Liberty Prairie Foundation hosted an event called the Common Ground Gathering on June 8 at Soulful Prairie Farms in Woodstock, Illinois. The social event brought together farmers and landowners to network and share their experiences related to the sustainable farmer/landowner relationship.

Liberty Prairie Foundation is a grantee of Food:Land:Opportunity and working in partnership with Openlands on the Land Access Pilot Project, a three-year initiative to increase sustainable local food farming on public and privately owned lands in northeastern Illinois.

Contact Nathan Aaberg for more information about local food and conservation events sponsored by Liberty Prairie Foundation: nathan(at)

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Food to Market Challenge Awards $500K to Bring Healthy Food to Underserved Communities

October 27, 2016


CHICAGO, IL - Sponsors of the Food to Market Challenge today announced Team Leverage: Bringing it Home as the winner of its $500,000 award. A partnership between Top Box Foods, FarmLogix, and This Old Farm, Team Leverage will create a scalable model to bring local, healthy foods into underserved communities in the Chicago region by partnering a local farm network with Chicago companies who currently deliver local food into schools.

The winner was announced at a Pitch Event on October 26 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Five finalist teams presented their ideas to a panel of five judges and an audience of nearly 300 people, which included local food producers, entrepreneurs, investors and staff and executives from the sponsoring organizations, Kinship Foundation and The Chicago Community Trust.

Each finalist team presented a compelling solution to the Challenge’s call to “develop the most innovative solution to improve the supply of local and sustainable food in the Chicago region.”

“The Food to Market Challenge was fundamentally a supply chain competition,” said Michael Davidson, Senior Program Officer at The Chicago Community Trust. “That diverse team structure gave us much more than good, scalable solutions for an emerging but fragmented local food marketplace, it produced the partnerships and coordination required for supply chain efficiency.”

The winning team brings together a non-profit organization that supplies SNAP-enabled boxes of healthy, fresh foods (Top Box Foods), a network of growers and producers based in Colfax, Indiana (This Old Farm), and a technology system to link farmers with buyers, including sourcing and aggregation (FarmLogix).

"We are excited for the opportunity to scale economic impact and nutritional access for the communities we serve—our local farmers, residents of low access Chicagoland communities, and our Chicago youth. This would not be possible without the Challenge. Now we can demonstrate our capabilities on a broader stage. Additionally, we look forward to continuing the collaborative energy that began with this competition to create an impactful solution far greater than we could achieve as individual companies," said Linda Mallers, CEO and President of FarmLogix.

The Challenge put a spotlight on issues that have hindered the scale of local food in the Chicago region and also showcased some of the innovative thinking already taking place. “All of our finalists brought forward tremendous ideas to consider,” said Renee Michaels, Vice President of Kinship Foundation. “We’re excited not only to see the winning solution roll out, but also to see the momentum that has built behind all of the ideas.The energy that the Challenge has brought to farmers, nonprofits, small businesses, and others all along the supply chain has been remarkable. We hope to continue to see ripples of collaboration and innovation in the sector in the months ahead.”

Ben Shorofsky, Programs Specialist at the Delta Institute and a member of one of the finalist teams, the Artisan Grain Collaborative said: “The Food to Market Challenge spurred the development of an unprecedented partnership among bakers, chefs, millers, nonprofits, advocates, entrepreneurs, and school nutrition experts around a common vision of a more regenerative agricultural system. We are looking forward to seeing how this partnership grows and develops as we introduce small batch artisan grains into the Chicago region.”

Another finalist team member, Angela Mason from the Chicago Botanic Garden said, “The Challenge gave us the opportunity to talk about the Farm on Ogden Development, a collaboration that is central to the mission of the Chicago Botanic Garden's Windy City Harvest program. We stood in front of judges and guests who may have not known about the depth of our work throughout Chicago. We are thrilled and honored to have been selected as one of the five finalists in the Food to Market Challenge. The Farm on Ogden Development is a unique partnership that will continue to work together to transform Chicago’s local food system.”

The five finalists were chosen from a pool of 24 submissions. Each team’s application was first ranked and scored by an Evaluation Panel. Then each team’s food production partner(s) had to be certified as local and sustainable. The Selection Committee judges were: Bram Bluestein, Alpana Singh, Helene York, Chuck Templeton and Joel Moore.

About the Food to Market Challenge
The Food to Market Challenge is a project of Food:Land:Opportunity—Localizing the Chicago Foodshed, a multi-year initiative that aims to create a resilient local food economy that protects and conserves land and other natural resources while promoting market innovation and building wealth and assets in the Chicago region's communities. Funded by the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, Food:Land:Opportunity is a collaboration between Kinship Foundation and The Chicago Community Trust.

About Kinship Foundation
Kinship Foundation is a private operating foundation established to advance the institutional philanthropy of the Searle Family. The Foundation has three areas of focus: biomedical research, environmental conservation and education. Its work includes: developing and supporting Chicago-based grant making initiatives through the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust; administering the Searle Scholars Program, a national biomedical research grant program; and operating Kinship Conservation Fellows, a global environmental leadership program.

About The Chicago Community Trust
The Chicago Community Trust is a community foundation dedicated to improving the Chicago region through strategic grant making, civic engagement and inspiring philanthropy. The Trust serves nonprofit organizations, donors and residents who strive to make a difference. The Trust works with a number of partnerships and initiatives to accomplish its bold vision to create lasting community change. Since its founding in 1915, the Trust has awarded over $2 billion in grants to more than 11,000 local nonprofit organizations—including more than $208 million in 2015.

Kinship Foundation
Renee Michaels, Vice President
[email protected]

The Chicago Community Trust
Michael Davidson, Senior Program Officer
[email protected]

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Kinship Foundation

Lenore Beyer
Director of Conservation Programs

The Chicago Community Trust

Michael Davidson
Senior Program Officer

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