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Chicago Supports 'Local Food' Movement

by 5m Editor
23 March 2011, at 3:46pm

US – Key leaders in the 'local food' movement met in Chicago to address how to get locally grown food into the distribution chain, writes Chris Wright, Editor of El Sitio Avícola.

The FamilyFarmed Expo and Trade Show and the 6th Annual Chicago Food Policy Summit took place from March 17 to 19 at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Connecting local and regional food producers to the supply chain is the focus of these meetings. Leaders of the movement and food producers from all over the Midwest US were in attendance.

Jim Slama, President of FamilyFarmed.org, said that buying food from local farmers is extremely popular. However, he asked a couple of leading questions: How do we build a sustainable food movement? How do we connect the local farmers to the supply chain? The latter question is really what this event was all about – but it is an issue that is not easy to resolve.

Warren Ribley, Director of the Illinois Department of Economic Opportunity, said that the locally grown food movement is creating jobs and helping to build a stronger food supply chain. He also emphasised the importance of training people to work in this sector, particularly the next generation of local food producers. Ribley said that in 2009 there were one thousand food manufacturing companies in the state of Illinois, but that only four per cent of the food eaten in Illinois is produced in Illinois. The state exports what it produces and imports the food it eats. Therefore, local food initiatives are very important.

Jim Slama added that $50 billion of food is bought in Illinois every year.

Ann Wright, from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said the local food sector is the fastest growing sector in the US. She said that in 2002, the local food sector generated $4 billion and by 2012, the number will go up to $12 billion. The USDA is definitely supporting local and regional food development.

Ken Kaplan, head of the MIT Collaborative Initiatives whose work has been focused on the US health care system, said that the health care industry is finally connecting food to health. They have come to the realisation that unless we change the food system, we are not going to change the health care system. The two are inextricably linked. A nationally integrated regional food system has a huge opportunity to provide some of those solutions.

A special session was held for beef and pork producers to address the issue of getting locally grown meat into the food logistics chain. A panel of five producers addressed the issues facing them, which were many, a key one being how to get the animals processed (due to the smaller volume) and by plants that practise animal welfare standards.

In terms of the companies that are strong supporters of locally produced food, one company was mentioned more than any other: Chipotle Mexican Grill, a very popular fast food restaurant chain. Almost all the panel members said they sold to Chipotle. Many other participants also mentioned the important role that Chipotle has played in the local food sector.

The locally grown food movement is a fast growing sector, and cities like Chicago are definitely embracing it. The movement has a great deal of potential, and the key issue remains that of finding a place for the sector within the US food supply system.