‘Food to Market Challenge’ Spurs Local Food Innovation

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On the evening of January 27, Chicago’s local food champions gathered to look ahead to the future of sustainable food.

The event celebrated the launch of the Food to Market Challenge, an innovative competition to drive solutions that will expand the local food market.

Food to Market Challenge: $500K to innovative solution for local, sustainable Chicago food system

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A $500,000 award will recognize the multidisciplinary team that designs the most innovative solution to re-conceive supply chain practices that currently limit the scale of the local food market.

The Challenge is a project of Food:Land:Opportunity, a multi-year initiative to create a resilient local food economy. Food:Land:Opportunity aims to protect and conserve land, while promoting market innovation and building wealth and assets in the Chicago region. Funded through the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, Food:Land:Opportunity is a collaboration between Kinship Foundation and The Chicago Community Trust.

“Bringing more local, sustainable food into the Chicago region means a more robust local food economy and a healthier environment,” said Renee Michaels, vice president at Kinship Foundation.

Guests at the Food to Market Challenge Launch event


Staged by Common Pool, LLC, a company that creates custom competitions to solve the world’s most challenging problems, the Challenge will span the next nine months.

  • Applications will be accepted through April 26. Applicants will then have until May 10 to submit their plans.
  • Between May and June, an evaluation panel will review all submissions, and advance the top ten promising solutions to an expert panel.
  • Up to five finalists will be invited to pitch their ideas in October to a selection committee, who will choose a winner.

“Currently, there are significant barriers to the supply chain that limit the ability of local food growers to scale the amount of food brought into the Chicago region,” said Michael Davidson, senior program officer for sustainable development at The Chicago Community Trust.

“The Food to Market Challenge will identify a solution that makes the comparatively small size of local and sustainable food enterprises less of a marketplace barrier, and can be sustained or grow even after funding from the Challenge ends,” Davidson said.

The winning team will receive $500,000 to implement its solution—but the competition’s goals extend beyond naming a winner. The challenge seeks to create a common framework for assessing and investing in innovative ideas, attract new talent to the local and sustainable food sector and convene an influential community committed to improving the region’s food economy.

In addition to its impact on the food sector, the Challenge represents new ground in local philanthropy for The Chicago Community Trust. By incentivizing innovation to address systemic problems, the Challenge has the potential to bring forth solutions that would not emerge through traditional grant making or without philanthropic capital.