By Bob Benenson
The largest and oldest trade show devoted to locally- and regionallyproduced foods will include a festival day that will welcome the public to participate in the “good food” movement. The indoor fair will take place on Saturday, March 21 at Chicago’s UIC Forum and will be the closing event of the 11th annual Good Food Festival and Conference, which runs March 19-21.
Jim Slama is president of FamilyFarmed, the non-profit organization that stages the event. Prior to founding FamilyFarmed more than 15 years ago, Slama published the award-winning holistic lifestyle magazine Conscious Choice and ran the environmental advocacy organization Sustain. A native of Ohio, he has lived his adult life in the Chicago area and has devoted himself to advancing these causes.
Slama notes that while there are many interpretations of what “good food” means, the one that guides FamilyFarmed and the Good Food Festival is “delicious, healthy food, accessible to all, produced as close to home as possible by family farmers and producers who use sustainable, humane and fair practices.”
Demand for local and sustainably grown food has in fact soared in recent years, spawning what is now widely known as the good food movement. Slama defines this as “a fastgrowing movement creating vast numbers of jobs and economic development by providing people with food that matches their values.”
More than just about eating and drinking, the consumer-oriented festival will feature interactive programs that show the important role that good food practices play in helping individuals and families maintain a holistic lifestyle.
The focus of the festival’s teaching and discussion programming is the Good Food Commons, which consists of six “resource centers,” including “Make Your Own,” “Raise Your Own,” “Grow Your Own,” “Preserve It,” “Compost It” and “Community Building.”
Attendees last March learned from experts, many of them local and sustainable food entrepreneurs. The sessions covered a wide range of topics, from how to make heirloom yogurts, condiments and cheeses to raising goats, bees, chickens and rabbits. Other workshops explored preserving, fermenting and canning food; building your own composting system; and starting or participating in programs such as a community garden or a seed-saving library.
The Commons will be located outside the main hall where dozens of vendors will present and sample their products and services, and where food and drink will be available for purchase. Workshops, open to festival attendees, will be held elsewhere in the UIC Forum building.
The first two days of the Good Food Festival and Conference, focused on local food issues, also are open to interested members of the public who register and pay a fee.
The Good Food Festival will be preceded, on Friday night, March 20, by Localicious, one of Chicago’s premier annual food and drink tasting events. This ticketed event features sample offerings from top area chefs who incorporate locally and regionally produced ingredients in their menus, and from craft beverage makers from Chicago and the upper Midwest. Friday morning and afternoon will feature a Local and Sustainable Products Trade Show, a School Food Conference and a Food Policy Conference.
Thursday, March 19 will feature the Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference, which will mark the public debut of the first group of participants in FamilyFarmed’s new Good Food Business Accelerator. The group will pitch their business plans to investors and financiers with a proven interest in food entrepreneurship. The Good Food Business Accelerator was created to assist promising food businesses through mentoring, technical assistance and networking.
Bob Benenson is FamilyFarmed’s communications specialist and manages its website Good Food on Every Table. He previously was a political journalist in Washington, D.C., for 30 years before he moved to Chicago in 2011.