The FamilyFarmed Expo Starts Thursday | Bleader

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If farmers are the rock stars of the sustainable food movement, does that make this weekend's FamilyFarmed Expo its Pitchfork? Hosted by the awkwardly styled, the expo runs Thursday through Saturday at the UIC Forum and features a lineup of programming that should give even the hungriest winter locavore hope that summer's bounty is just around the corner.

Here's the breakdown.

Thursday's dedicated to hooking farmers up with that all-important commodity: cash. The Financing Farm to Fork conference features speakers like Tallgrass Beef rancher Bill Kurtis, Growing Power's Erika Allen, and Woody Tasch, founder of the Slow Money Alliance and author of the recently released Inquiry Into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered — and isn't really geared toward the general public. But the just-announced closing speaker that day is USDA deputy secretary Kathleen Merrigan, who was a big hit at last year's Chefs Collaborative at Kendall College. At that event she announced the launch of the administration's multimillion-dollar Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, designed to support small farmers on multiple fronts and facilitate connections between growers and markets. It's unlikely she'll have similarly big news this time around, but who knows?

Friday is a doubleheader, with both a trade show — featuring panels on "Greening Your Restaurant" and, yes, "Rockstar Farmers" — and the fifth annual Chicago Food Policy Summit, convened by the Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council. The trade show is industry only, but the summit is open to anyone interested in advocating for sustainable local food systems and their myriad related issues. If you get ginned up at the prospect of discussing "Land Use Planning For Urban Agriculture," this is where you'll find your people.

Of particular note: a just-added panel on shared-use kitchens with Kitchen Chicago owner Alexis Leverenz and food scientist and local food systems advocate Jim Javenkoski. Ever since the unfortunate February 4 visit of a CDPH inspector to Leverenz's West Town business, which resulted in the destruction of more than $1,000 worth of fruit purees and other products belonging to confectioner Flora Lazar, the question of licensing for shared-use kitchens and other nontraditional business models has been a hot-button issue in food circles. With farmers' market season just around the corner, small-food artisans across town are scrambling to figure out what bureaucratic hoops they need to jump through to keep their livelihoods intact. I'd expect a full house.

Friday night there's also a screening of the movie Fresh, and the Localicious cocktail party. The movie's free with your $50 summit admittance; the party — a fund-raiser for — is another $75. (For complete ticket info on the whole three-day shebang, go here.)

Saturday the doors open to the general public, with a slew of workshops on everything from keeping urban chickens to the benefits of grass-fed beef, plus vendors, kids events, and cooking demos from Rick Bayless, Paul Kahan, Paul Virant, Gale Gand, and Jo Kaucher of the Chicago Diner. The full schedule's here — but I'd be remiss if I didn't single out one workshop in particular, "You Ate the Whole Thing," a discussion of whole-beast cookery with chefs Rob Levitt (Mado) and Paul Kahan (Blackbird, Avec, the Publican), plus Ehran Ostrreicher of E & P Meats, and Greg Gunthorp of Gunthorp Farms. The moderator is Whole Hog enthusiast and Reader food and drink columnist Mike Sula.

I'm going to be at the conference all three days, and will be blogging it here—stay tuned for more.