Top Five Reasons To Attend Chicago's 13th Annual Good Food Festival

The 13th annual Good Food Festival and Conference will be taking place March 16 through March 18 in Chicago this year. Run by FamilyFarmed, the conference and festivals brings together over 5,000 people, including some of Chicago’s best chefs, to discuss local food and sustainability. I had the wonderful opportunity to interview representatives of the festival. Whether you’re already involved in or just learning about the Good Food movement, here’s everything you need to know about why to attend this year.

1. This year, attendance to the Good Food Festival is FREE

FamilyFarmed is devoted to “Good Food on Every Table,” and that means bringing more Good Food — and more information about healthy, nutritious, environmentally sustainable eating — to people with limited financial means.

“We are hopeful that by giving tickets to the Good Food Festival away, we will draw an even bigger audience, one that is more demographically and economically diverse, than we have had at our previous 12 Good Food Festivals,” said Jim Slama, FamilyFarmed’s president and founder.

Slama continued, “A healthier, more sustainable and more economically productive food system can and must provide Good Food for all.”

Good Food Festival Chicago 2016 [photo credit: Barry Brecheisen]

Good Food Festival Chicago 2016 [photo credit: Barry Brecheisen]

2. Programming for the Good Food Festival and Conference has greatly expanded, which means there will be new workshops, panels, and demo chefs.

The Conference did not always include the Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference day (Thursday), but as FamilyFarmed realized the importance of connecting funders and investors with artisanal food and farm businesses in order for them to thrive and grow, we’ve added that component. We then recognized the need to support food businesses further, so three years ago we launched the Good Food Business Accelerator housed at 1871, which moves Fellows through a comprehensive program of mentorship and business development. Many of our Fellows then pitch to investors at the Good Food Financing Conference.

The success of Thursday is that over $30M has been raised in debt and equity capital in support of Good Food businesses in our region.

The number of food and farm businesses exhibiting at our Good Food Trade Show & Conference grows every year and programming follows their needs and industry trends. This year panels cover, for example, Does Good Food Need to be Local?, Agriculture and Climate Change, and New President, New Congress – The Future of Federal Food and Farm Policy. We are also debuting speakers in the PechaKucha format on Friday.

Good Food Festival Chicago 2016 [photo credit: Barry Brecheisen]

Good Food Festival Chicago 2016 [photo credit: Barry Brecheisen]

An exciting evolution for us this year is we’re greatly expanding our Saturday Chefs At Play stage. This year chefs are scheduled all day long, starting with our Good Food Chef of the Year Award winners, Josh Kulp and Christine Cikowski of Honey Butter Fried Chicken and ending with Rick Bayless.

Chef Rick Bayless performing a demo [photo credit: Barry Brecheisen]

Chef Rick Bayless performing a demo [photo credit: Barry Brecheisen]

Along the way, we’ll bake bread with flour milled onsite with Greg Wade, bake pie with Paula Haney of Hoosier Mama Pie Company, and butcher half a hog with Rob Levitt of the Butcher & Larder. We also feature three different farms on our Urban Farm Bus Tour this year, and we continue something we’ve featured for the past few years, micro workshops on the Organic Valley Good Food Commons. We recognize that the people in our own community have skills and knowledge to share, so the Commons is their chance to teach everything from backyard chickens and bees to fermentation to composting and community building.

3. Transparent learning of the challenges that the Good Food movement faces.

We see three challenges to accelerating the Good Food movement that rank especially high, and FamilyFarmed is working to address them.One is creating more efficient supply chains to get local, sustainable, humane and fair food to market and provide greater access (our goal is Good Food on Every Table). This requires incentivizing more farmers and food entrepreneurs to create more Good Food products, connecting them with retailers, wholesalers, distributors and end-use consumers, and helping finding solutions to logistical issues (such as transportation) that hinder those seller-buyer relationships.The other is increasing public knowledge about Good Food.

Thanks to the rapid growth of the Good Food movement, tens of millions of people already are insisting on a better food system. But they are still a minority, and we need to reach more people who thus far have not engaged or who may not even be aware of the health, environmental and economic benefits of Good Food. Thus our Festival and free entry this year.And lastly, we know we need more and better farmers because the average age of farmers is nearly 60. FamilyFarmed works nationally to train farmers for both wholesale (over 11,000 farmers trained to date) and direct market success and in fact just released our new Direct Market Success manual and training workshops. Full info on our training programs here.

4. Some of Chicago’s biggest chefs are involved.

For starters, our past Good Food Chef of the Year Award recipients, Paul Fehribach of Big Jones, and Paul Kahan of the One Off Hospitality group are exemplary in their food sourcing and promotion of the Good Food movement. All the chefs doing demos with us this year are too – Tom Van Lente at The Winchester, Paula Haney at Hoosier Mama, Aaron Lirette at Green River. And we’d also mention Abra Berens at Stock Cafe, Josh Katt at Kitchfix (who just unveiled a complete ingredient transparency program), Paul Virant at Perennial Virant and so many others.

Chef Paul Kahan (One Off Hospitality Group) and Chef Christine Cikowski (Honey Butter Fried Chicken) performing a demo [photo credit: Barry Brecheisen]

Chef Paul Kahan (One Off Hospitality Group) and Chef Christine Cikowski (Honey Butter Fried Chicken) performing a demo [photo credit: Barry Brecheisen]

The good news is that Good Food is truly mainstream in Chicago’s restaurants these days.

5. Learn more about how you can help to strengthen the Good Food movement on a daily basis.

Learn who the food businesses, farms and restaurants are who embody the Good Food movement in our foodshed and support them! Buy from them. Promote them to  friends. Help make their businesses viable if you value Good Food. Come to the Festival to meet them all and learn how to buy from them.

Take small steps – watch a film like Food Patriots for inspiration. And visit the micro workshops on the Commons as a way of learning how to put things into practice. Wondering how to reduce your kitchen’s food waste or turn it into valuable compost? Come to a workshop. Plant a small garden so you grow your own – Peterson Garden Project can help with that and they’ll be hosting the Seed Swap again this year at Festival where you can pickup seeds and gardening advice. Teach the young ones – kids are where the growth in Good Food is, so bring your kids to the Purple Asparagus Kids’ Corner so they learn to value fresh, local ingredients and foods.

Are you already involved in the Good Food movement? Leave a comment to let us know how. Curious to learn more about it? Post a question in the comments for answers. See you at the Festival this weekend!

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P.P.S. Curious about my views on complimentary food, event coverage, and more? View my policy page here.

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