FamilyFarmed.org is a sophisticated system designed to connect local food producers with trade buyers and consumers on a regional level. FamilyFarmed.org helps consumers and trade buyers develop trusting relationships with farmers and artisanal food producers by sharing information about their values and production methods. A key reason for FamilyFarmed.org’s success is the manner in which it shares the authentic stories of farmers and producers.
FamilyFarmed.org began as a project of Sustain, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization. One of Sustain’s most significant victories was the Keep Organic Organic Campaign, a partnership with the Organic Trade Association and a network of grassroots organizations to develop a multi-media effort to oppose proposed USDA regulations that would have allowed food that was genetically engineered, irradiated and grown in sewage sludge to be labeled organic. Sustain produced national ads, posters, flyers, and a national web site for the effort, which generated 275,000 comments in favor of stronger standards. As a result, the USDA rewrote the rules to reflect the sentiment of concerned consumers.
This passion for the organic and local food movements inspired the Sustain board to consider developing a “Buy Local” campaign to encourage consumers to purchase locally grown, responsibly produced food and vegetables. After examining the marketplace, researchers concluded that there was very little organic food being grown locally. Consequently, Sustain developed the Local Organic Initiative, in an effort to understand the challenges and opportunities for Midwestern regional food systems. The process continued with a feasibility study funded by the US Department of Agriculture and the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
The study entailed surveys, focus groups and one-on-one interviews with farmers, trade buyers, distributors and other local food system stakeholders. One of the key insights that came out of this process was the need for a local food industry trade show. Producers made it clear that they did not want to make cold calls on buyers, while buyers wanted an appropriate place to connect with producers. As a result of gaining this knowledge, Sustain launched the first Local Organic Trade Show in 2004 with 50 farmers and hundreds of trade buyers attending.
In 2005, the trade show was combined with a consumer show and evolved into the FamilyFarmed EXPO, which took place at Navy Pier. More than 2000 people attended this event and since then it has become one of the largest annual local food events in the Midwest with subsequent shows in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2011.
The FamilyFarmed EXPO has become a national model for connecting buyers and sellers of local and responsibly produced food. Producers, distributors, retailers, restaurants and consumers attend the EXPO to network, learn from each other and build marketing relationships.