For Sustainable Local Farming, Award Competition Sparks Bold Solutions

Award competition spurs Chicago’s local, sustainable food supply in #FoodToMarket Challenge Tweet This

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From restaurant menus to grocery stores, interest in local food is stronger than ever. Yet of the $14 billion in produce our region consumes annually, just 5% is locally grown.

That’s why the Food to Market Challenge put out a call for innovative projects that would address the barriers limiting the scale of the local food sector.

Twenty-four teams submitted proposals, from which five were chosen as finalists. And on a rainy October evening at the Museum of Contemporary Art, a standing-room-only crowd gathered to cheer on the Challenge’s boldest, brightest ideas.

At stake for the teams: a $500,000 award to develop their solution.

Crowded auditorium at the Museum of Contemporary ArtThe Food to Market Challenge—an award competition to increase Chicago’s supply of local and sustainable food—culminated with five finalists pitching their ideas live to a panel of judges and a lively audience.

Food and health reporter Monica Eng served as emcee for the final event, introducing the teams and starting the clock for each to pitch their vision of a creative disruption to local agriculture. The five proposals:

Team Leverage: Bringing it Home: Leveraging delivery networks to bring fresh produce from 100+ small family farms to underserved neighborhoods in Chicago. Drawing on the strengths of three existing businesses, this team proposed to use technology and logistics innovation to connect farmers, distributors and end users such as large institutions—creating the win-win proposition of higher revenues for the farmers and bringing good food to more people.

Team Chicago Artisan Grain Collaborative: Reviving artisanal grains and beans adapted for our local growing climate. This team makes regenerative farming possible and brings grains to the local food sector on a potentially massive scale by bridging gaps between millers, researchers and farmers. This is good for the soil, good for our waterways and great for the supply chain.

Four people on stage in front of a projection screenMembers of Team F.O.O.D. (Farm on Ogden Development) explain their vision of scaling up urban farm projects to increase production, while training a new generation of farmers.

Team F.O.O.D. (Farm on Ogden Development): Expanding an urban farm to build training opportunities, and give new farmer land to apply their skills. Windy City Harvest creates a centralized processing and distribution hub in the heart of the city, making it possible to aggregate the high-quality product of smaller urban farms and get that product into the local marketplace. And by teaching the value of good food, Farm on Ogden represents the changing paradigm of local food as both a jobs creator and a pathway to health and wellness.

Team Kane County: Coordinating a regional food hub in Kane County that serves as a model for future regional systems. Kane County takes its tradition of agricultural preservation to a new level with a local food hub enabled through a public-private partnership—allowing local food farmers to produce at a scale that works for both the retailer and the institutional buyer—and then replicating this model to create a trading network of food hubs throughout the Chicago foodshed.

Team Fresh Picks Farmer Alliance: Uniting farmers to share transportation and infrastructure, freeing them up to farm more. This team moves us beyond CSA subscriptions and farmers markets, and makes scaling for large buyers such as grocery stores possible. Here, farmers work through a network of farm hubs that share information, resources and technology to bring down the cost of getting their product to new markets.

A display of garlic and root vegetables on a tableWhile the judges deliberated, the audience at the Museum of Contemporary Art gathered around visual displays from each team to discuss the pitches—and predict the winner.

Although each of these five high-energy pitches won the crowd’s support, it was up to a committee of judges from the food, business and financial sectors to deliberate and select one team as the Challenge winner.

The judges’ committee included:

  • Bram Bluestein, managing partner at Bluestein & Associates and an investor in early stage food, retail and technology businesses
  • Joel Moore, a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management with a focus in sustainable impact investing
  • Alpana Singh, restaurateur and master sommelier, owner/operator of The Boarding House, Seven Lions and Terra & Vine
  • Chuck Templeton, managing director of Seed to Growth Ventures and founder of OpenTable
  • Helene York, global director of responsible business for Compass Group at Google

After listening and posing thoughtful questions, the judging committee retired to evaluate each idea for its feasibility to implement, its prospect of long-term sustainability, and its potential impact—and select a Challenge winner.

A group of judges seated at a table while one speaks into a microphoneChuck Templeton, managing director of Seed to Growth Ventures and founder of OpenTable, and a committee of judges drawn from the business, food and financial sectors followed each pitch with questions to establish its feasibility, sustainability and potential impact.

Finally, president and CEO Terry Mazany of The Chicago Community Trust and Kinship Foundation vice president Renee Michaels took the podium to announce the judges’ decision—“a catalytic moment” for local food, as Mazany explained.

Their shared role on the program, like the entire evening, was emblematic of the power of philanthropic partnership. The Food to Market Challenge was created by Food:Land:Opportunity, a visionary collaboration between Kinship Foundation and the Trust to create a resilient local food economy that conserves land, promotes market innovation and builds wealth in communities.

Terry Mazany speaks at a podium while Renee Michaels opens an envelopeTerry Mazany, president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, prepares to award the Food to Market Challenge as vice president Renee Michaels of Kinship Foundation opens the envelope to reveal the winning team.

Food:Land:Opportunity, and its inventive approach to philanthropy through efforts like the Challenge, is an essential strategy in the Trust’s work of leading change, and a prime example of its investments to support sustainable communities.

After a moment of suspense, Mazany and Michaels awarded as the winner Team Leverage, for “a vision we believe will place Chicago at the center of a movement that brings more fresh food into our communities.”

Members of Team Leverage hugging and smilingMembers of Team Leverage celebrate their $500,000 award, which will leverage delivery networks to bring fresh produce from more than 100 small family farms to underserved neighborhoods in Chicago.

By connecting customers, logistics solutions and cutting-edge technology, Team Leverage will create a sustainable supply chain between more than 100 local family farms and the nutritionally and economically underserved populations of the Chicago area.

And the whole region will look forward to watching them change the way families in Chicago’s underserved neighborhoods eat—and watching local family farms thrive.