Family Farmed Expo celebrates local food

By Margaret Lang

Fans of locally grown produce came together as the Family Farmed Expo celebrated its fifth annual event at the University of Illinois at Chicago on March 11.  This food festival included workshops about local food, urban agriculture and information about growing your own food.

The event ran for three days. The first day focused on the Financing Farm to Fork Conference, which brought together investors, farmers, food businesses and funders to help create new financing opportunities.

The Family Farmed Expo’s Financing Farm to Fork Conference supports the local food movement by encouraging investment in farm and food production, processing and distribution businesses.

Mary Jo Schnell, a nonprofit business consultant, attended the Family Farmed Expo event for the first time. Schnell works with land conservation issues, planning programs.

“The event brings to focus some of the issues that urban areas are struggling with,” Schnell said. “There’s an academic art to it, but the real life stories, with how people are dealing with these issues are very important to understand.”

Schnell also discussed her main interest in attending the Family Farmed Expo event.

“Land. I really liked the idea on financing concepts, models and formulas for anything from small family farms, and again linking that to some of the local land efforts to establish such kinds of business models,” Schnell said. “I think the event was terrific and I look forward to getting more in-depth knowledge about some of the smaller presentations we’ve had here where you get a little taste of what these people do.”

Conference speakers at the Financing Farm to Fork Conference included national and regional experts and investors who spoke about food businesses, farm financing and food access. Also attending the conference were farmers, food producers, bankers and agricultural specialists from the city, state and federal levels.

Jim Schultz, founder of Open Prairie Adventures, spoke at the event about his organization, which is a venture capital firm focused on investing in early growth-stage companies in life science sectors.

Kyle Welborn, program manager at Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, is a co-sponsor of the event and said he thinks the event is important to educate people about the importance of local organic produce.

“We  work to create jobs in the region and this event is important to connect members of the community around very specific missions involving access to food, and also to help people build successful businesses,” Welborn said.

Family Farmed Expo’s mission is to expand the marketing, production and distribution of locally grown and produced food to enhance the health of Chicago’s