FamilyFarmed is a non-profit organization committed to expanding the production, marketing and distribution of locally grown and responsibly produced food, in order to enhance the social, economic, and environmental health of our communities.
The first four months of 2017 were among the most exciting and successful in FamilyFarmed’s history. Its 13th annual Good Food Festival & Conference drew more than 7,500 attendees over three days in March, shattering the previous record. Then, on April 30, a new philanthropic partnership between FamilyFarmed and Chef Rick Bayless’ Frontera Farmer Foundation produced the Frontera 30th Anniversary Celebration, a fundraiser at the Art Institute of Chicago … and it was a dazzling success, raising more than $100,000 to be shared evenly between the nonprofit organizations while delighting more than 700 attendees with an engaging Good Food Forum followed by the Good Food Party of the Year featuring delicious treats prepared by more than a dozen world-class chefs.
The groundwork for these big productions was laid over more than 15 years, as FamilyFarmed established itself as a lead innovator in promoting what we call Good Food: delicious, healthy, accessible food, grown as close to home as possible, by family farmers and producers using sustainable, humane and fair practices.
By bringing together farmers, food producers, trade buyers, investors, individuals, families and other key stakeholders, we have helped grow the sales of Good Food, facilitated financing for food and farm businesses, and inspired entrepreneurs and NGOs toward greater innovation.
The Good Food Festival & Conference, held annually in Chicago, has been the centerpiece of FamilyFarmed’s calendar and its highest-profile program. [It is being re-branded at the Good Food Expo beginning with the March 2018 event.] Launched in 2004 as the nation’s first trade show focused on local and sustainably produced food, the Good Food Festival & Conference is the biggest regional event of its type in America. Its features include the traditional trade show and marketplace, in which many of the types of operations that benefit from our training programs participate, and a CSA Pavilion that enables community supported agriculture farms from the Chicago foodshed to promote their businesses and attract new customers.
As the Good Food Festival & Conference grew, FamilyFarmed recognized the need to facilitate connections between food and farm entrepreneurs who are seeking to start up or scale up, and investors and lenders who have shown increasing interest in the Good Food sector. This spawned the creation, in 2011, of the Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference, which includes pitches by selected businesses and a financing fair.
In turn, the Financing & Innovation Conference spun off the Good Food Business Accelerator (GFBA). Launched in fall 2014, the Accelerator program provides competitively selected Fellows with an intensive six-month curriculum, mentorship, networking opportunities and connections with investors. The program is now entering Year 4 having graduated all 27 of its Fellows’ businesses who participated in the first three cohorts. More than 40 percent of the businesses have been woman-owned and minority-owned, underscoring FamilyFarmed’s dedication to diversity.
Between the Financing & Innovation Conference and the GFBA, FamilyFarmed has helped facilitate at least $36 million in equity and debt funding for Good Food businesses in recent years. And currently under development is a new Incubator Without Walls (IWOW) program that will function as an adjunct to GFBA, providing one-off technical assistance to businesses that do not require or have the time for the broad spectrum of programming in GFBA.
Farmer training is another vital aspect of FamilyFarmed’s agenda. Our program initially was built around our Wholesale Success: A Farmers’ Guide to Food Safety, Selling, Postharvest Handling, and Packing Produce manual, aimed to providing instruction in best practices for farmers seeking to sell to retail, wholesale, restaurant and institutional buyers. This was followed in 2017 by publication of Direct Market Success: A Farmer’s Guide to Farmers Market, CSA, Farmstand, Online and Restaurant Sales, with a strong focus on the needs of young and beginning farmers — the new generation needed by this nation, where the average age of farmers is roughly 60.
Both of these programs provide workshops across the nation that, in total, have trained more than 12,500 farmers in 42 states. And both were shaped by national advisory boards made up of experts in disciplines across the areas of farming, food production and marketing.
In addition, FamilyFarmed created and manages the OnFarmFoodSafety.org website, which provides user-friendly templates that enable farmers to create their own on-farm food safety plans. This program was created with the counsel of a 15-member national stakeholder advisory board and 15-member technical team. The importance of this program has only grown in recent years, as buyers of farm goods increasingly are demanding food safety certifications from producers and the regulations under the federal Food Safety Modernization Act place new responsibilities on farmers.
FamilyFarmed began as part of Sustain, a 501(c)(3) non-profit launched on the heels of a successful campaign to shut down an incinerator releasing 150,000 pounds of lead into the air annually. Sustain developed the “Keep Organic Organic” campaign, partnering with the Organic Trade Association and other organizations, that blocked proposed USDA rules that would have diluted the National Organic Program’s standards.
Sustain then developed a “Buy Local” campaign, encouraging consumers to purchase local food, and in 2004 launched the first Local Organic Trade Show. The organization soon transitioned to become FamilyFarmed.