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The city of Chicago, Illinois is full of inspiring organizations working to build a better food system.

These community groups feed neighbors, offer culinary arts job training, develop urban agriculture, and more. Through this work, they seek to build stronger local food systems that nourish eaters, support local economies, and protect the environment.

On August 24, 2022, Food Tank heads to Chicago to celebrate the city and its diverse food and agricultural systems. In collaboration with the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, Illinois Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, Illinois Agri-Food Alliance, The Hatchery, and Chicagoland Food & Beverages, we will explore the intersection of food and technology at our summit “Technology and the Future of Our Food Systems.”

Speakers included US Congressman Marie Newman (IL-03); US Congressman Jan Schakowsky (IL-09); US Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL-08); Celebrity Chef and Restaurant Owner Rick Bayless; Sam Acho, ESPN sports analyst, nine-year NFL veteran, NFL Players Association Vice President, and author; Ertharin Cousin, Founder and CEO, Food Systems for the Future; Bill Jackson, Executive Director, Discovery Partners Institute; Danielle Nierenberg, President, Food Tank; Ariel Cheung, Chicago Tribune’s Journalist Brett Chase, Environmental Journalism, Chicago Sun-Times; Monica Eng, Journalist & Podcast Host, AXIOS; Mike Sula, food writer, Chicago Reader; Michelle Relerford, Weekday Morning Host, NBC 5 News; Michael Hirtzer, Ag Reporter, Bloomberg; Jean-Pierre Comte, President, Barilla USA; Maryann Byrdak, CIO, Feeding America; Luke Saunders, Founder and CEO, Farmer’s Fridge; Lucie Basch, Co-founder, Too Good To Go; Alan Reed, Executive Director, Chicagoland Food and Beverage Coalition; Tyler Strom, Executive Director, The Illinois Agri-Food Alliance; Sanjeev Krishnan, Chief Investment Officer, S2G Ventures; Karen Sauder, President, Global Client and Agency Solutions and Site Lead for Google Chicago.; Shayna Harris, Managing Partner, Supply Change Capital; Marc Zornes, Founder, Winnow; Natalie Shmulik, CEO, The Hatchery Chicago; Mark Kaplan, Co-Founder, Seen; Osayanmo Osarenkhoe, Founder, ClearCOGS; Anthony Edwards, Founder, EatOkra; Beth Conerty, Integrated Bioprocess Research Laboratory and Human Nutrition Pilot Processing Plant Food Science; Kerri McClimen, Vice President, Niman Ranch/Perdue; and Shelby Parchman, Chief Operating Officer, FamilyFarmed.

Learn more about the event and register now by clicking HERE.

And check out some of the amazing change makers working to change Chicago’s food system.

Launched by Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network (CFBN) in 2020, Bigger Table is a non-profit organization that works to identify opportunities to deliver charitable initiatives and economic growth. They help forge new relationships between industry stakeholders, promote long-term employment in the culinary industry, and deliver products where they are needed most.

Through their Windy City Harvest program, The Chicago Botanic Garden helps bring food, health and jobs to local communities. In addition to overseeing their 15 farms that produce more than 100,000 pounds of fresh produce annually, they support a network of more than 60 community garden plots and offer cooking and nutrition classes. Through the program, Garden also provides paid job training to more than 150 people every year.

3. Chicago Council for Global Affairs

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is a nonpartisan organization that works to increase knowledge and engagement in global affairs. Their Global Center for Food and Agriculture works to advance more sustainable and resilient food systems through policy reports and summaries, expert analysis, and events that bring together leaders from the public and private sectors.

4. Chicago Food Policy Action Council

The Chicago Food Policy Action Council (CFPAC) works to ensure that all Chicago residents can access and grow culturally relevant and nutritious foods that are produced in a sustainable manner. CFPAC helps advance good food purchasing practices, develop urban agriculture in cities, and support food systems research.

5. Chicagoland Food & Drink

Chicagoland Food & Beverages launched in 2017 to help Chicago’s food and beverage industry grow. Their membership includes food and beverage companies of all sizes, from international manufacturers to small start-ups. By helping these businesses connect and collaborate, they hope to drive innovation in the region, support local economies, and revitalize urban environments.

As part of the University of Illinois System, the Discovery Partners Institute helps Chicago residents launch their technology-centric careers and companies. They do this by training people for technology jobs, conducting applied research and development, and building businesses to strengthen Chicago’s “tech ecosystem.” Among their programs are Food & Ag Scholars, a one-semester program that helps students understand how they can use computers and applied data to transform the food and agriculture sectors.

Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) envisions a world free from childhood hunger. Working with food science and nutrition experts, FMSC develops foods to complement nutritional needs and reduce malnutrition. Since 2009, their program has reached children in more than 100 countries around the world.

As part of Feeding America, Feeding Illinois is a network of food banks operating throughout the state of Illinois. The organization consists of more than 2,4000 kitchens, soup kitchens, shelters, and other specialized programs that distribute food to those in need. Each member organization can meet the unique needs of the communities they serve, helping to ensure that everyone has access to healthy food.

Chef, restaurateur, and television personality Rick Bayless helped launch the Frontera Farmer Foundation in 2003 to support sustainable small farming in the Chicago area. The Foundation provides local farmers with capital development grants to ensure that they can sustain their businesses while supporting biodiversity and providing food businesses with fresh, sustainably grown produce.

Gardeneeneers work with students in the Chicago neighborhood, helping young people access fresh food while developing their knowledge and skills. In doing so, they seek to address the root causes of injustice in the food system. The organization has reached more than 1,800 students in more than 19 schools.

Gain Growing Collective (GGC) seeks to equip Black and Brown communities with the tools they need as they work towards food and land sovereignty. GGC operates several gardens, which they use to provide fresh produce to members of the local community. They also collaborated with the Small Village Environmental Justice Organization to organize a Black and Brown Farmer Exchange and encourage solidarity between local Black and Latino farmers.

12. Global Park Refugee Training Field

The Global Garden Refugee Training Farm is an urban farm in the Albany Park neighborhood. Non-profits provide a space for displaced families to access fresh produce, build relationships with neighbors, and earn extra income. They also run a composting program to keep food debris from going into landfills and build soil health.

Launched In 2017, Grow Greater Englewood works to develop local food economies and land sovereignty to ensure everyone can lead a safe, healthy and fulfilling life. They work to build an African-centered community at Engleword to improve public health, produce fresh produce, and protect the soil and the environment from further harm.

As a non-profit urban agriculture and workforce development center, Growing Home helps residents find careers through agriculture-based education. These organizations provide paid work experience and job readiness training on their farms as well as the support residents need as they manage their medical, childcare and housing needs.

I Grow Chicago engages more than 3,000 residents per year through their programs designed to nurture the community. Operating under the belief that healthy food is a human right, the organization runs community kitchens to ensure everyone has access to nutritious food. They also started the Peace Garden, an urban farm where they grow fresh food and offer educational opportunities to young people.

Working to drive positive change while meeting the needs of a changing food system, the Illinois Agri-Food Alliance works to champion food and agriculture solutions. They believe that collaboration is essential for change, and seek to provide an environment for stakeholders to engage, network, and develop frameworks and strategies for the future.

17. Illinois Food Scrap Coalition

The Illinois Food Scrap Coalition (IFSC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and promoting composting. They offer resources to help businesses and residents connect with composting services, purchase compost, identify nearby composting locations throughout the state, and start their own composting program.

For more than 30 years, the Illinois Hunger Coalition (IHC) has been a statewide membership organization working to end hunger by addressing its underlying causes. IHC works to expand programs that reduce poverty, bring federal and state resources to low-income communities, and provide training to support community leaders.

19. Illinois Stewardship Alliance

The Illinois Stewardship Alliance works to bring more transparency to the food system and empower producers and consumers. They do this by forging links between farmers, eaters and policy makers, and helping communities engage more deeply in the democratic process of changing food systems.

Through a free 12-week culinary training program, Impact Culinary helps young adults aged 16-24 start their careers in the hospitality industry. They offer participants an 8-week class course followed by a 4-week paid internship at a Chicagoland restaurant. Through this program, students earn a food handling certificate and learn about knife skills, food preparation, cooking methods, nutrition, and job readiness skills.

21. Small Village Environmental Justice Organization

Founded in 1994, the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) strives for environmental justice and healthier communities in the Chicago area. Using Semillas de Justicia Garden as a community center, they offer knowledge exchanges, free weekly dinners, bicycle repair workshops, and educational workshops on sustainability and climate adaptation.

Through various food distribution programs, Nourishing Hope reports that they serve the equivalent of 4 million meals to Chicago residents each year. More than just a food pantry, this organization also provides mental health and other social services to address the health of neighbors holistically. They help connect families with clothes, toys, and cleaning supplies, provide employment resources, offer financial support, and more.

Pilot Light helps students make connections between food, health and community to support the next generation of leaders who are striving for a more equitable and sustainable food system. Through their food education program, they help students make informed dietary decisions and help them develop lasting and positive relationships with food. The organization also offers free lesson plans to help teachers incorporate food education into traditional school subjects.

By partnering with local restaurants and food businesses, Rescuing Leftover Cuisine (RLC) Chicago works to reduce food waste and divert excess food to homeless shelters, food pantries, and other community-based organizations. RLC Chicago will save food of all sizes in an effort to reduce waste at all levels.

A local branch of Slow Food International, Slow Food Chicago offers events and programs for residents in and around Chicago. Together with their partners, they also operate the preSERVE park, where they provide green space for residents and grow fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Hatchery Chicago is a non-profit food and beverage incubator that works to help Chicago-based entrepreneurs grow successful businesses. They offer business leaders access to commercial kitchen facilities and an entrepreneurial curriculum, while strengthening local economic empowerment through training programs and job placements

The Love Fridge Chicago is working to locate community refrigerators around Chicago in an effort to reduce food insecurity. They believe in providing support through solidarity, not charity, and use their mutual cooperation model to care for their neighbors. Community members can support their work by donating food, helping maintain and storing refrigerators, or distributing food from partner organizations.

Operating eight urban farms, primarily located on Chicago’s South Side, the Urban Growers Collective (UGC) strives to develop community-based food systems that nourish communities. In addition to growing and selling fresh produce, the organization offers opportunities for staff-led education, training and leadership development. They also partnered with After School Matters to run Youth Corps, a job training program for youth.

Articles like the one you just read were made possible through the generosity of Food Tank members. Can we count on you to be part of our growing movement? Become a member today by clicking here.

Photo courtesy of Clay Banks, Unsplash

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