If you like the fact that chefs buy directly from farmers, who grow crops from seed banks and also sell to retailers like Whole Foods, one of the things you should thank for that state of affairs is the Good Food Festival, which will have its 11th annual meeting March 19 through 21. The most visible part of the event is Saturday's public festival, which will host a wide range of vendors including CSAs and local food producers of various kinds, making soaps and jams and local honey and who knows what else. The CSA part is perhaps the most helpful; if you're thinking of buying into one this year, this is your chance to actually meet the farmers and scout out which ones offer the program closest to what you want. (You can prep for this a little bit at the Local Beet, whose 2015 CSA guide just came out here.)
There will also be chef demos on the main floor, emceed by me and featuring Jason Hammel of Lula Cafe, Matthias Merges of Yusho and A10, Paul Fehribach of Big Jones, and Nicole Pederson of Found, plus several vendors selling good food items for lunch. Meanwhile, off the main floor, there's a host of panel discussions and programs ranging from baking with Greg Wade (Publican Quality Bread) and Dave and Megan Miller (Baker Miller Bakery & Millhouse) to charcuterie with Rob Levitt (the Butcher and Larder) to issues-oriented forums on grassroots food activism and more. And there's a bus tour of urban farm sites, a kids' corner with Purple Asparagus, and other activities; see the whole schedule for that day here.
But as noted, that's just one day, the one aimed at the general public. Thursday and Friday are dedicated to practical help for people involved in or interested in going into farming or other forms of food production. Thursday is the Good Food Financing & Innovation conference, which helps food and farm businesses gain access to investment that will help them scale up and meet the demand for local, sustainable food. Friday is Trade Day, with more than 100 exhibitors making connections with other businesses and exploring issues relating to trade, school food, food policy, and more. Dozens of farmers and food producers have made critical business connections with restaurants and retailers at this part of the festival—a story told along the way in this film I made last year for the festival, featuring vendor Big Head Farm, who will be an exhibitor again this year:
• Last week I mentioned the misfortune that befell the excellent Chatham-area soul-food breakfast-and-lunch spot 5 Loaves Eatery, whose electrical wiring was stolen off its building to sell as scrap copper. The first time that happened the place was closed for two and a half months, but this time it's recovered much more quickly and in fact was serving again this weekend. One thing that helped was the It's a Wonderful Life-style rallying to the restaurant's side on the part of the community, which you can read about here. Check out 5 Loaves' story, then do yourself a favor and have breakfast there sometime.
• This isn't a Chicago story, though it's one people here can relate to. A couple of weeks ago I interviewed chef Blaine Wetzel of Willows Inn near Seattle, one of the top farm-to-table restaurants in the country. The interview was put off for a few days because Wetzel had to go to "the hospital," but it wasn't until last week that I learned the full story—his fiancee, the restaurant's manager, Raquel Diaz, was hit by a drunk driver while hiking in Paraguay and faces a long recovery and enormous hospital bills. You can contribute to a fund-raiser for Diaz here, and her situation is also a reminder to support Chicago's own local organization aimed at helping restaurant workers in this kind of need, Un-86'd.