Funded projects

Grants • Learning and Evaluation Investments

Food to Market Challenge

$500,000 award to the multidisciplinary team that designs the most innovative solution to re-conceive supply chain practices that today limit scale of the local food market.

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.

Artisan Grain Collaborative

The Artisan Grain Collaborative (AGC) is developing a collaborative grain hub system 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 crops being targeted by the Collaborative 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.

Farm On Ogden Development

The Farm on Ogden is an 18,000 square foot urban food hub and training center located on Chicago’s west side. Farm on Ogden Development (F.O.O.D.) will use a systemic approach to link important partners, including an incubator-based farmer training program, growers, healthcare providers, an urban developer, distributors and consumers to increase the distribution of local food in Chicago. F.O.O.D. addresses challenges around food, health and jobs, which often exist in low-income neighborhoods.

F.O.O.D will establish a food hub to aggregate small farmers’ harvests and provide needed refrigerated storage, processing and transportation as well as support services for business development. New farm sites, including graduated incubator space, will provide land to launch farm businesses. Producers will also have access to a commercial kitchen to develop value added product. The project will create new, reliable distribution channels and awareness of local food through its health partnerships and the VeggieRx program, which provides low-income patients with prescription produce from local farmers. Grant funds will enable F.O.O.D to purchase necessary equipment and supplies such as hoop houses; a refrigerated truck, seeds, and tools; and will cover food safety certification costs and start-up funds for its incubator farmers.

Fresh Picks Farmer Alliance

The Fresh Picks Farmer Alliance (FPFA) 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.

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.

Farm 2 Neighbor Program

As part of the winning team of the 2016 Food to Market Challenge, Top Box Foods and This Old Farm partnered on a food distribution program to bring locally-sourced protein into Chicago’s underserved neighborhoods by tapping into an existing supply chain that delivers food to Chicago schools.

In the Farm 2 Neighbor program, they will build upon this model, bringing local and sustainable food to the employees of large corporate and institutional workplaces (500-plus employees) at retail prices. Top Box Foods will work closely with companies to promote and market This Old Farm meat products to their employees, and then help distribute the food boxes at company sites. Focusing on corporations allows Farm 2 Neighbor to expand the market for local meat products and reach large numbers of customers at each location. The corporate delivery program will drive demand and increase the amount of locally-sourced protein in the food system which, in turn, increases revenue for farmers.

Funding will allow This Old Farm to engage, train and recruit farmers and provide technical support such as Food Safety Training. This Old Farm will also improve its infrastructure and develop new products to meet the increased demand. In addition, Top Box Foods will use the profit from the Farm 2 Neighbor program to subsidize its program to provide healthy food to low-income communities and food deserts.

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.

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.

Englewood Community Farms

This project will support the development of a business model for Englewood Community Farms, a for-profit farming enterprise in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood. The project will include securing land for farming, training for farm businesses, and establishing an organizational structure to deliver a sustainable and profitable model for community farming.

Land Access Project

In 2014, Liberty Prairie Foundation (LPF) and its partners 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.

Phase 2 of this project continues to advance strategic land access opportunities in focused, collaborative and practical ways, creating models that can be replicated throughout the region. LPF will facilitate a Land Access connections program through the launch of a resource-rich, farm-linking website to connect sustainable famers with conservation-minded landowners. Second, through its continued work with the McHenry County Conservation District, LPF and its partners, Delta and Foresight Design, will create a model for managing farmland on conservation land. LPF and Openlands will continue to engage decision makers around policies which are incentives or barriers to a viable regional food system.

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 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.

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.

Good Food Business Accelerator

The Good Food Business Acclerator (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.

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. AUA’s work centers on increasing the number and capacity of urban growers and consequently expanding access to fresh, healthy produce. AUA will establish a voluntary certification program to support urban growers, helping them develop professionally and scale their operations. The program will focus on best practices for soil remediation, food safety and sustainable growing and will be recognized by the City of Chicago, local farmers markets and restaurant/beverage businesses. Establishing a 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.

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.

Routes to Farm

In 2015, with initial funding from Food:Land:Opportunity, Angelic Organics Learning Center (AOLC) created Routes to Farm, 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. This collaborative forum helps farmer alliances discuss and address the changing needs and challenges facing local farmers.

Routes to Farm has grown to include 14 farmer alliances serving over 600 farmers. To address identified needs of farmers and the barriers they are facing in the food system, Routes to Farm will implement a marketing plan to increase demand for direct-marketed local foods. The market data and consumer surveys will be critical to help farmers who sell directly to consumers through farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes maintain viable businesses.

Food Scrap Compost Market-building

This project scales the local food scrap composting industry to build healthy soil, conserve water, protect water quality and sequester carbon. It will create demand for food scraps through education, policy and pilot projects, while driving infrastructure development and targeted investments. Building on previous work to increase institutional composting systems, Seven Generations Ahead (SGA) will implement food scrap composting at 14 Chicago Public School (CPS) sites and provide training to universities and hospitals on specific elements of food scrap diversion programs. To encourage municipal curbside food scrap composting programs, SGA will develop a how-to guide for implementation. The project will also explore the viability of the production and use of liquid compost made from food scraps from grocery outlets through on-farm testing and research.

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.

Kinship Foundation

Lenore Beyer
Director of Conservation Programs

The Chicago Community Trust

Michael Davidson
Senior Program Officer

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