FLO Grants Funded in Spring 2019

October 15, 2019

FLO projects address innovative food and farmer training, land access and promote regenerative farming practices:

Transformative Farmer Training and Education

The McHenry County College is providing educational opportunities for farmer entrepreneurs through their Center for Agrarian Learning (CAL) and a new degree program in Entrepreneurial Agriculture.


We are pleased to announce that the following projects received renewal funding in Spring 2019:

Urban Growers Certification Program

Advocates for Urban Agriculture (AUA) is a membership organization that joins individuals, organizations and businesses to support and expand urban growing in Chicago, including home and community-based gardens and small farms.

Angelic Organics Learning Center

Angelic Organics Learning Center provides educational programs for more than 5,000 people each year through programs at partner farms and urban growing sites.

Developing Capacity for Regenerative Farming

ReGenerate IL is a coordinating space and coalition bringing together a diverse group of people who believe in the power of regeneration to restore soil health, store carbon, protect water quality and enhance biodiversity in the state of Illinois.

Artisan Grain Collaborative

The Artisan Grain Collaborative (AGC) is developing a grain hub system to bring new, artisan, food-grade crop varieties into Chicago markets.

Good Food Accelerator

The Good Food Accelerator (GFA), developed by FamilyFarmed, supports food businesses in the Chicago foodshed through mentoring, business planning and access to capital.

Land Access Project
Liberty Prairie Foundation (LPF) and its partners works to identify strategies to connect landowners and local food farmers, test land tenure leasing agreements with public and private landholders, and further build a pipeline of beginning and second-career farmers.

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Innovative Financing for the Local Food Ecosystem

April 8, 2019


Submission deadline: April 26, 2019 at 5:00 pm CT

FLO announced today that it is launching an effort to seek out and support innovative financing in Chicago's local food system. FLO has long recognized the importance of deploying adequate capital in the local and sustainable food system. Recent research by FLO on the region's financing landscape uncovered select gaps in the availability of short-term financing for local, sustainable food enterprises. Early and growth stage producers, distributors, processors and retailers, for example, often struggle with meeting various short-term capital needs. FLO aims to fill a portion of this capital gap by working with partners to unlock the financing needed of established businesses within the local food ecosystem to allow their businesses, as well as the sector, to grow.

FLO is looking to engage with one or more financial intermediaries that are interested in extending the reach of their current products and services or designing a new financial instrument targeted to early and growth stage local food businesses in need of short-term capital. FLO will deploy up to $1.0 million to one or two partners in the form of a recoverable grant. Partners will be selected through a two-phase process. Details including eligibility requirements, submission requirements, key dates and frequently asked questions, can be found by downloading the Request for Letters of Interest.

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New FLO Grants Announced

February 12, 2019

New FLO projects will address land access and promote regenerative farming practices:

Accelerating Regenerative Livestock Production and Value Chains in Illinois

This project will examine the current state of the Illinois grass-fed beef and dairy sector with the end goal of creating scenarios to develop a stronger grass-based livestock economy.

Coalition Building to Remove Policy Barriers to Local Food Economy Growth

An overarching goal of FLO is to reduce fragmentation in the local food movement. This project looks to unite key stakeholders to increase the amount of land available for sustainable agriculture and local food.

Illinois Farmland Conservation Initiative

This project will bring new financial resources to increase land access in the peri-urban areas of the Chicago regional food system.

Reaching Climate Resilience

This initiative looks to accelerate climate resilience strategies by promoting regenerative practices for agriculture.


We are pleased to announce that the following projects received renewal funding in Winter 2019: 

Englewood Village Farms

Grow Greater Englewood is leading the development of Englewood Village, an urban farm initiative that includes the creation of a plaza that will host a demonstration farm and connect to the Englewood trail.

Farm On Ogden Development (F.O.O.D)

F.O.O.D, one of the finalists in the 2016 Food to Market Challenge, continues its efforts to connect sustainably produced food in Chicago through its food hub on Ogden.

Food Scrap Compost Market-building

Seven Generations Ahead is demonstrating how the food scrap composting industry can drive economic development and protect natural resources.

Routes 2 Farm

The consortium of farmer alliances plans to launch a marketing campaign to raise consumer awareness about the benefits of buying local, sustainable foods.


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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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Contact program staff or sign up to receive email updates.

Kinship Foundation

Lenore Beyer
Director of Conservation Programs

The Chicago Community Trust

Michael Davidson
Senior Program Officer

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