Now in its tenth year, the Good Food Festival is, most everyone can agree, a good thing. To the public the event—which will be at the UIC Forum from March 13 to 15—is mainly Saturday’s fair, which includes chef demos, workshops, and classes (the Reader’s Mike Sula will moderate a charcuterie and butchery master class with Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn), and a large exhibition hall where you can meet farmers, sign up for CSAs, and sample the sustainable, organic, and local “good food” that is the festival’s namesake.
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. For those actually in the business of creating food, it’s the preceding two days that really matter. Thursday is the Financing & Innovation Conference, which is devoted to helping food producers understand the business side of food production and to network with potential investors. Friday includes a trade show, which brings producers together with wholesale and retail buyers.
After I emceed the chefs’ demos last year, the Good Food Festival approached me about making a video that would tell the story of what farmers get out of it. So earlier this month I went to Benton Harbor, Michigan, to meet Karen and Jody Warner, whose Big Head Farm produces organic blueberries (which Karen sells in season at the Southport and other farmers’ markets) and vegetables for their CSA. They’re also in the process of converting a nearby apple orchard they recently acquired into an organic orchard and cider mill.
Nothing was growing on the snow-covered land when I got there, but the Warners were bubbling with ideas about the things that they’d be doing on their farm this year, and were eager to tell me how the Good Food Festival had helped them make the connections that make their products available in the Chicago. My resulting 14-minute film, Networking the Land, tells that story but also, I think, the more basic story of why we should care about local farmers and what they grow. Watch it here; you can meet Karen Warner at her exhibition booth at Saturday’s fair.