Funded projects

Grants • Learning and Evaluation Investments

Launch of New Urban Farmers Capacity Building Grant Program

Advocates for Urban Agriculture is working with a highly-qualified selection committee/peer advisory board to launch and implement an equitable and effective grant process to meet the needs of  small scale Chicagoland farmers. This re-granting initiative is designed to address gaps in financing and resources for growing operations in Chicago. Grants ranging from $2,500 to $20,000 will be awarded based on criteria determined and vetted by the peer advisory board. The granting program is designed to empower Chicagoland urban farm businesses to expand their ability to produce and distribute locally grown food through increased operational support and capital projects.  

Local Food Producers Caucus

In the last few decades, federal, state and local food and farm policy has focused on the  industrial scale food system. As farmers, entrepreneurs and advocates try to realign that system to support a resilient local food economy, these policies and policy structures have been a barrier. To build relationships among farmers and help them articulate their collective needs, the Illinois Stewardship Alliance will conduct an organizing drive of northern Illinois farmers to launch a local food producers caucus. The project will expand the pool of leaders and capacity to foster new state and federal champions of sustainable local food. Through this effort, northern Illinois farmers will meaningfully engage in shaping the policy agenda and participate in farmer networking and leadership development.

Urban Growers Collective Farmers for Chicago

Urban Growers Collective (UGC) operates urban agriculture projects on 11 acres of land predominantly located on Chicago’s south side. These are production farms where staff provide education, training and production of large volumes of produce while also demonstrating the ecological and social impacts of farming in Chicago.  UGC’s Farmers for Chicago incubation program provides long-term technical training, business consulting, and land tenure for individuals hoping to start a small urban farm enterprise.

Faith in Place

For 20 years, Faith in Place has empowered Illinois people of all faiths to be leaders in caring for the Earth, by providing resources to educate, connect, and advocate for healthier communities. Faith in Place works with faith communities across five areas of environmental sustainability: Energy and Climate; Sustainable Food and Land Use; Water Preservation; Advocacy; and Youth Leadership and Empowerment. In its Sustainable Food focus area, Faith in Place engages people of faith to grow a just and resilient local food economy.

Green City Market

Green City Market (GCM) is a nonprofit farmers market and educational resource with the mission to improve access to locally grown food, connect Midwest farmers to consumers and chefs, and foster knowledge of cooking with the seasons among Chicagoans. 

Good Food Purchasing Program

The Chicago Food Policy Action Council (CFPAC) co-develops, advocates for, and facilitates policies with Chicago residents to improve their ability to produce and access sustainable, fair, nutritious, affordable, and culturally significant food. The Council recognizes the structural inequities and dynamics of the current food system. CFPAC works to address these inequities by advancing food justice and food sovereignty in the Chicago region and across Illinois.

Farm to Hospital Supply Chain

Basil’s Harvest primarily works in supply chain development for regenerative foods and experiential education for health and culinary professionals and farmers. This pilot project will address key elements of creating a regenerative farm to hospital supply chain. The project will help farmers integrate small grains into crop rotations; create a business model which connects hospital procurement and local farmers in Chicago; and generate demand and supply of foods farmed with practices that prioritize soil health and water quality.

Successfully implementing this model will have a significant impact on increased production of small grains which are grown in Illinois using regenerative practices. In addition, a needs assessment will inventory and identify Chicago area hospitals and institutions that can use lessons learned from this pilot to increase integration of local food into their food service needs.

Healthy Food Hub

Black Oaks Center for Sustainable Living is dedicated to enhancing the education, training and facilitation of the local food system value chain from Pembroke (South of Chicago in Kankakee County) to Chicago. The Center provides black farmers with access to information and facilities to help bring this historically black farming community back to an agricultural center. The Healthy Food Hub provides a space for farmers to bring their product to market, complete with loading docks, a walk-in cooler, freezer and dry storage.

Transformative Farmer Training and Education

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

The Center for Agrarian Learning will be a hub for professional skill development, offering non-credit training in topics such as food production and food security. The Center will maintain partnerships with other entities active in farmer training to improve access to additional resources as well as open new marketing channels, and increase educational opportunities.

The Entrepreneurial Agriculture associates degree will include courses such as food production and plant and soil science along with a deeper dive into business-type classes like finance, marketing, and business fundamentals. The degree will offer aspiring farmers hands-on, practical training along with the rigor of an associate’s degree. The program will empower individuals to participate in numerous food-economy based enterprises, thus contributing to the region’s economic development.

Funding from FLO will support hiring key staff positions to oversee all programming and evaluation for both educational models. By building capacity, McHenry County College will strengthen its ability to provide farmers with supply side business practices and the skills to succeed in the regional local food system.

In Fall 2020 , MCC will launch the Entrepreneurial Agriculture associates degree program enrolling its first group of students in hands-on practical training along with the rigor of an associate’s degree. MCC is developing new classes in marketing and a practicum at the on-campus farm. This critical education program for new and beginning farmers in McHenry County will serve the entire region.

Good Agricultural Practices Certification

Growing Home, founded in Chicago in 1996, uses agriculture as a vehicle to conduct job training while also supporting its programs through sales of fresh produce. Growing Home operates two USDA-certified organic farms in the Englewood neighborhood that produce over 30,000 pounds of vegetables and herbs annually.  Growing Home will pursue Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification and implement a comprehensive marketing and communications plan to promote visibility and sales.

Accelerating Regenerative Livestock Production and Value Chains in Illinois

This project will analyze and define the current state of the Illinois grass-fed beef sector to better understand the complex value chains and current supply and demand of the grass-based livestock economy. Delta Institute will collaborate with the Wallace Center at Winrock International, bringing expertise from their Pasture Project initiative, to gather comprehensive baseline data critical to understanding the economic and conservation opportunity for this essential component of the local Illinois food system. In 2020, the project will identify pilot projects and geographic areas where regenerative grazing and grass fed beef offer economic potential. Working with people throughout the value chain, the project partners will illustrate different scenarios on the ground for the growth of the sector. In addition, grantees will identify priority investment mechanisms to support transition to grazing and will ultimately engage in the implementation of viable financing mechanisms to support the grass-fed beef sector.

Artisan Grain Collaborative

The Artisan Grain Collaborative (AGC) is developing a resilient grain supply chain to bring new, artisan, food-grade crop varieties into Chicago markets. If a sufficient market can be created for these new grains, the region will see increased land in sustainable food production and an increase in the supply of high quality, nutritious grains. The Collaborative is focusing on crops which will result in more regenerative agriculture practices that will protect soil and water health, lead to stronger local food businesses and farms, and generate a model that can be adapted for use by other regions.

Coalition Building to Remove Policy Barriers to Local Food Economy Growth

The local food movement in Illinois is fragmented across cultural, economic and geographic lines. This project, led by the Illinois Environmental Council Education Fund (IECEF), aims to unite local food and farm stakeholders across all lines to create a unified vision for a resilient local food economy in Illinois. IECEF has a long history of educating policymakers in the state, putting them in a unique position to join the critical players to enact policies that will increase the amount of land available for sustainable agriculture and local food. Funding will support IECEF in their efforts to build a coalition, develop policy, educate lawmakers, and produce educational materials on local food policy and infrastructure needs.

Developing Capacity for Regenerative Farming

ReGenerate IL is a coordinating space and coalition that brings 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. Through their IDEA Farm Network, ReGenerate IL brings together a learning community for farmers, scientists, advocates, food entrepreneurs, and consumers to share diverse experiences, information, and views in order to advance regenerative agriculture.

Funding will help ReGenerate IL expand farming that integrates regenerative practices through IDEA Farm Network's outreach and training. ReGenerate IL will connect farmers in specific geographies that will both reap environmental benefits from the adoption of regenerative practices but also provide critical market connections. Training events will include peer-to-peer outreach and specific education about diverse cropping systems, pollinator habitat/holistic pest management, and grazing management plans.

Dream Distributors

Dream Distributors is developing a local food aggregation and processing hub in Kane County with the support of Kane County Planning and Development and Seven Generations Ahead. The privately operated food hub will aggregate produce for wholesale purchasers; process produce for schools and other institutions; expand a farm-to-institution program to educate young people about nutrition; and work directly with the region’s farmers to coordinate crop planning and harvesting. Initial funding provided support for planning and launch activities, including the purchase of food processing machinery. More recent funding will support several readiness programs: training for farmers on food safety and organic certification so that they may sell to wholesale and institutional buyers; training for institutional buyers on how to purchase from local food farmers through the Dream Hub, including kitchen equipment audits and a “farm-to-cafeteria” workshop on scratch cooking and local sourcing; and technical guidance and professional consulting services for food hub operators to develop financially sound and actionable business plans. Dream Hub is expected to produce over $2 million in revenue for local farmers, maintain up to 850 acres of agricultural land and have a total economic benefit of $5.9 million.

Eat to Live Incubator Farm

This is one of three projects in Englewood designed to increase the number of Englewood community members who are eligible and qualified to access and farm on land within the Englewood Urban Agriculture Zone by supporting capacity-building of Grow Greater Englewood and programming for the Eat to Live Incubator Farm.

Farm On Ogden Development

The Farm on Ogden Development (F.O.O.D) project increases the supply of sustainably produced food in Chicago by linking a leading urban agriculture training program, a food distributor, an urban developer, health care providers and small farm businesses. In June 2018, F.O.O.D. opened the Farm on Ogden, an 18,000 square foot urban food hub and training center located on Chicago’s west side. The hub aggregates the harvests from small farmers, providing refrigerated storage, processing and transportation, as well as support services for business development. F.O.O.D’s distribution through a health service partnership supports a VeggieRx program, which provides low-income patients with prescription produce grown by local farmers.

Grant funding enables F.O.O.D to enhance its services through continued infrastructure improvements, comprehensive training on urban agriculture, including short courses and workshops for aquaponic farmers, and programs to support farmers as they transition from incubation to independent operation. Funding will also help to establish a new half-acre farm site several blocks east of the Farm on Ogden, increasing land access for farmers who participate in the programs.

Farm 2 Neighbor Program

In 2016, Top Box Foods and This Old Farm partnered with Farm Logix to win the Food to Market Challenge. Since then, the Top Box and This Old Farm have worked together to increase the accessibility of locally sourced protein in the Chicagoland area. In 2018, with the launch of the Farm-to-Neighbor initiative, they have  distributed 94,850 servings of locally sourced protein in the Chicago area.

Food Scrap Compost Market-building

To demonstrate the viability of food scrap systems in large institutions and municipalities, Seven Generations Ahead (SGA) is creating composting programs within Chicago Public Schools and schools in Lake County.

SGA will provide trainings and consulting services to institutions, utilizing resources produced in previous FLO funded projects, such as the guide to residential food scrap composting. Funding supports SGA in their efforts to build advocacy, to develop initiatives through cross-sector partnerships, and deliver education aimed at state, county and municipal level decision makers who support a food scrap composting industry that will reduce food waste and provide a valuable soil amendment.

This project’s long-term goal is to protect natural resources and drive economic development through a viable food scrap composting industry. Compost provides soil with valuable nutrients, conserves water, sequesters carbon and protects water quality. In 2020, the project focus will enhance partnerships to reduce food waste and achieve composting objectives by leading collaborative teams and projects connecting composting to local, sustainable food, water quality, soil enhancement and food waste reduction.

Fresh Picks Farmer Alliance

The Fresh Picks Farmer Alliance connects small, local farmers through a network of farm-based hubs to distribute and market their products. The hubs use an innovative approach to aggregate crops from neighboring farms and leverage existing structures to store and stage crops for regular truck pickups, reducing shipping costs. The Alliance of farmers, businesses and nonprofits is anchored by a distribution and marketing partner who is contributing an existing warehouse, refrigeration facilities, information technology, marketing, and a delivery fleet.

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. The goal of this entrepreneurial training model is to support food entrepreneurs to develop business skills and facilitate access to resources that allow them to successfully launch or expand profitable businesses, resulting in the expanded production, marketing and distribution of locally grown and responsibly produced food.

Food:Land:Opportunity was a lead funder at the launch of GFA in 2014 and has provided annual support since. FamilyFarmed continues to refine its programming to meet the changing needs of the entrepreneurs and the market, such as creating programs that provide flexible, custom technical assistance, ad-hoc coaching, specialized curriculum and community partnerships. In 2018, developed programs to expand training programs for entrepreneurs in underserved communities. New continuing education and specialized assistance is also available to Accelerator alumni.

To date, four cohorts of fellows representing 36 businesses have graduated from GFA raising over $15 million in grants, debt and equity financing. Businesses within the entrepreneurial network have raised an additional $37.5 million while also increasing market distribution and sales.

In 2020, FamilyFarmed Is focusing their curriculum to provide increased opportunities to engage with mentors, offering programs in disadvantaged communities and conducting strategic planning across all program areas.

Illinois Farmland Conservation Initiative

This project will bring new financial resources to address the challenge of land access in the peri-urban areas of the Chicago regional food system. The initiative, led by The Conservation Fund (The Fund), will build upon the efforts of the Land Access project, which identified the potential for land trusts to use agricultural conservation easements as a tool to connect farmland owners with local food farmers.

The Fund will identify and align project partners and farmland protection projects among land conservation organizations to add agricultural land easements to the suite of farmland access supports for Chicago’s regional food system. The project will use the USDA's Agricultural Land Easement program (ALE) to secure funding and target key agricultural lands of long-term commercial significance. The Fund will also set up a collaborative plan to use USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCCP) to support high-capacity partnerships and generate farmland protection projects that provide habitat and water quality benefits and farmland access. Longer term goals include supporting an enhanced community of practice among the wider land conservation community on ways to accomplish conservation objectives through programmatic support for farm viability. In 2020, the initiative will focus on building a Regional Conservation Partnership with the capacity and resources to execute farmland protection projects. Securing federal USDA funding is a key element.

Land Access Project

In 2014, Liberty Prairie Foundation (LPF) in partnership with Openlands  began to identify strategies to overcome the policy barriers to land access, test land tenure leasing agreements with public and private landholders, and further build a pipeline of beginning and second-career farmers. Phase 1 of the Land Access Project culminated in 2016 with the release of Breaking Ground: A Guide to Growing Land Access for Local Food Farming in Northeast Illinois.

Land Trusts, Land Access and Local Food

The Land Conservancy of McHenry County (TLC) will work to promote land access and sustainable practices for food farming operations in McHenry County. Through the Land Access Project, Liberty Prairie Foundation and Openlands explored broad land access issues. Their analysis identified areas of work which needed to be done at the local level with specific tools and relationships unique to successful local land trusts. In this project, TLC will take that work forward by exploring agricultural easements to secure land for farming; advocate for change to address barriers in land access policy; and share the lessons learned for supporting local food farming with other land trusts in Illinois.

In 2020, land access work will continue to focus on 1) making farmland more affordable through the use of agricultural conservation easements, 2) promoting innovative ways for new farmers to farm through exploration of mechanisms outside of land purchase or leases, 3) working in partnership with land trusts and local governments in the county and region.

Routes to Farm

Routes to Farm is a consortium of farmer alliances dedicated to providing support and training to local food farmers in the Chicago foodshed. The work is coordinated through a centralized, online platform that helps farmers find farmer-led services and programs to meet the needs of their growing farm businesses. The forum helps farmer alliances discuss and address the changing needs and challenges facing local farmers. Initial funding supported the creation of the alliance and the online platform. Routes to Farm has grown to include 14 farmer alliances serving over 600 farmers.

Regional Marketing Campaign
At a Routes to Farm summit held in early 2017, local farmers and organizations identified the need for a marketing campaign to enhance consumer awareness of the benefits of buying local, sustainable foods and where to buy them. Market data and consumer surveys are critical for direct market farmers— those who sell directly to consumers through farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Through this funding, Routes to Farm will launch an outreach campaign, which includes establishing a shared brand, a website and other marketing materials, and helping farmers implement the recommendations from the market research study. The Routes to Farm leadership team is working with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance and Buy Fresh Buy Local steering committee to integrate it with a successful statewide effort. Buy Fresh Buy Local aims to unite farmers and local food venues under a unified brand and message, provide consumers with information on how and where to buy local and help quantify and share the impact of local food producers in the region.

South Cook County Land Access

NeighborSpace will identify ways to transition underutilized land in south Cook County for sustainable urban agriculture. Working directly with the Chicago Food Policy Action Council, they will create plans and actions to develop urban agriculture through clearly defined steps, legal agreements, funding mechanisms and stakeholder engagement. Key public land-holding institutions include the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and the Forest Preserves of Cook County. The partners will also develop a model for sustainable funding to address costs of acquisition, remediation, site preparation and development. A portion of this grant will allow NeighborSpace to continue its work on the Englewood Land Access Project.

Supporting Urban Growers

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. AUA’s work centers on increasing the number and capacity of urban growers and consequently expanding access to fresh, healthy produce. AUA created  a voluntary self-assessment and certification program—which provides farmers and producers with a comprehensive guide to business and good growing practices . The program helps urban growers develop professionally and scale their operations. The program focuses on best practices for soil remediation, food safety, and sustainable growing. This technical assistance program addresses a specific need among farmers who require consistent business training to effectively grow and sustain their businesses. AUA’s certification program will help growers move to the next level of production and ultimately establish an increased number of investment-ready farm businesses in the urban area.

Capacity Building

Food:Land:Opportunity also supports general operating needs of grantees which fall outside of a specific program or project. The local food system needs strong organizations, leaders and coalitions which can leverage the supply and demand of local food and sustainable agriculture in the Chicago region. Food:Land:Opportunity supports organizations who show that leadership and address fragmentation in the sector.

Angelic Organics Learning Center (AOLC) was founded in 1998 as a nonprofit educational partner to its working farm, Angelic Organics. The Learning Center provides educational programs for more than 5,000 people each year through programs at partner farms and urban growing sites. AOLC operates five core initiatives including farmer training for next generation sustainable farmers, farmer network facilitation, urban agriculture projects, civic engagement around food and agriculture policy and models of farmland protection and succession planning. Funding from FLO is used to facilitate an effective leadership transition.

Fresh Taste was formed in 2002 by a group of Chicago and Illinois-based foundations interested in changing how food is produced, processed and consumed in the region to promote healthy land, healthy people and healthy communities. Today, Fresh Taste is a funder initiative focused on re-localizing the food system in the Chicago foodshed, and improving equity of access to good food (healthy, green, fair and affordable). Fresh Taste provides leadership to convene diverse stakeholders to stimulate conversations and increase investments in food system change. Funding from FLO is used for general operations support.

Englewood Village Farms

This project supports the creation of a food and farm business model for Englewood Village Farms, a for-profit farming enterprise in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood, led by Grow Greater Englewood (GGE). The project envisions a plaza in Englewood that will host a demonstration farm and a food market that connects to the Englewood trail (an innovative linear park)—an endeavor that will build the local economy and connect residents to healthy green space. Funding supports GGE in their efforts to repurpose and remediate vacant land for farming, assist farmer businesses to create business plans and offer other business development trainings. In collaboration with NeighborSpace, GGE will continue efforts to secure and develop land for Englewood Village Farms, and develop remediation practices and training for farmers and large lot owners. GGE will also work with partners to re-establish a local land trust to conduct and finalize land access for newly acquired sites.

GGE will partner with DuSable City Ancestral Winery and Your Bountiful Harvest to lead the demonstration farm at the Plaza. Support and training services will be provided by partners, including Urban Growers Collective and Windy City Harvest, so that farms will meet the standards for growing practices and food safety. GGE will also explore partnerships with micro-lenders to attract capital to the food system.

Since 2014, GGE has been the core community partner in FLO’s Urban Pathways project, which was designed to increase the number of Englewood community members who are eligible and qualified to access and farm on land within the Englewood Urban Agriculture District.

In 2020, Grow Greater Englewood will build its capacity as a network convener and facilitate a collaborative planning framework to meet the vision of Englewood Village Farms and Trail. Bringing together leaders from the Chicago Food Policy Action Council – Urban Stewards Network and the GGE Wisdom Council, GGE will develop shared goals around increasing demand for local food, increasing the skilled labor capacity and stimulating economic development.

Englewood Land Access Project

In Englewood, Food:Land:Opportunity is supporting projects designed to increase the number of Englewood community members who are eligible and qualified to access and farm on land within the Englewood Urban Agriculture Zone. Specific strategies to support urban agriculture enterprises include investigating cooperative business models that facilitate land tenure agreements, and identifying appropriate parcels for farming. In 2019, NeighborSpace will collaborate with Grow Greater Englewood to develop a demonstration farm site along the Englewood Trail and four other sites in the area, leasing land from the City of Chicago to provide access for these farm enterprises.

Team Leverage: Bringing it Home

Access to local, sustainably produced food is limited by the many inefficiencies that exist in the current supply chain. Food producers are particularly challenged to reach populations in underserved communities, where access to grocery stores and healthy food markets is limited. The result: farmers and their consumers never connect. Team Leverage looks to solve this problem by connecting a local farm network with two Chicago companies that currently move local food into schools. The solution leverages existing customers, partners, a distribution system, and a technology platform to create a lasting, sustainable supply chain between those who produce local, healthy foods and the consumers who want to purchase them.

Catalyzing Conservation Grazing in the Chicago Foodshed

This project explores converting a 200-plus acre, private property site in McHenry County, Illinois into a large-scale, sustainable grazing operation and a hub for grazing education and networking. If the land proves suitable for grazing, Openlands will pursue a creative land acquisition strategy to assist an experienced grazier to establish an environmentally sustainable and profitable livestock operation. Data will be collected on land and water health to illustrate the conservation value of rotational grazing practices.

UPDATE - September 2018: Soil sampling conducted during the initial due diligence process revealed contamination that rendered the property unfit for grazing. Download the full report.

Strategic Learning and Evaluation Framework

Rooted in the initiative’s Theory of Change, Food:Land:Opportunity will pursue ongoing learning, evaluation, and research activities to adapt to the changing needs of the field, measure the effectiveness of the initiative’s interventions, and broadly distribute findings in order to contribute to positive systemic change.

Chicago Local Food System Study

The Chicago Local Food System Study: An Analysis of Opportunity for Local Foods intends to advance the field of local food systems research and point to promising approaches to increase the supply of local food, while identifying ongoing challenges in local foods research. The study encompasses five parts: an economic analysis, a policy and program scan, ecosystem services research, a literature review, and a set of conclusions and recommendations.


Contact program staff or sign up to receive email updates. Please note: staff is working remotely with access to email and phone services. For the quickest response, please e-mail us rather than calling or sending physical mail.

Kinship Foundation

Lenore Beyer
Director of Conservation Initiatives

The Chicago Community Trust

Michael Davidson
Senior Director - Community Impact

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