An awareness of where food comes from is a vital part of a community's ability to secure wholesome, nutritious foods. Unfortunately, due to the increasing industrialization of farming over the last half-century, this sense of connection between the food we eat and the way in which it was produced has been severed for many American. Traditional, family-owned farms are being replaced by large, vertically-integrated food production corporations. This has created a food system that, many would argue, is unhealthy for the environment, unhealthy for the farms, and unhealthy for consumers. The process of food production has become largely hidden from the views of most consumers. Fortunately, organizations like FamilyFarmed.org are working hard to re-establish this lost connection between food and farm.
In March 2011, FamilyFarmed.org hosted the FamilyFarmed Expo at the UIC Forum. The expo, which lasted three days, brought together farmers, retailers, restaurateurs, chefs, politicians and consumers. The focus of the Expo is increasing the availability and awareness of local, sustainably produced food and agriculture. Since The Spice House strongly believes in the importance of community and supporting local interests, we sent two of our manager, Paige and Adam, to the Expo.
This year's FamilyFarmed expo featured over 150 exhibitors in the main hall, including a number of local farmers and food-producers showcasing their products. Many of the farmers had exciting local produce to sell, creating a sort of indoor farmers' market feel. Amongst the delicious items I sampled were Nessalla Kambucha and Ruth and Phil's Gourmet Ice Cream. Also in the main hall was a “food-court”, with booths operated by local restaurants whose menus feature local and organic products. I enjoyed a delicious lunch crafted by City Provisions, a local Deli and Caterer.
Of course, the expo wasn't all food and fun. Many terrific organizations were present to promote sustainable agriculture. Represented were political organizations gathering signatures for petitions supporting sustainable agriculture, activist groups like the Food Animals Concerns Trust who are fighting for the humane treatment of food animals, farm programs like Growing Home, environmental agencies such as Food and Water Watch and Green Earth Institute, and many legal and financial groups supporting family farms and environmental groups.
In addition to the exhibitors in the main hall, the FamilyFarmed Expo also offered a wide variety of relevant seminars. Topics included vertical farming, beekeeping, composting, raising urban chickens, and many more. I attended seminars on home canning and preserving, humane meat production, and home cheesemaking.
The event was truly a fantastic learning opportunity. It reminded me just how much each of us as consumers can affect change in the way our food is produced. I found it inspiring to be surrounded by so many hard-working people who are dedicated to improving our food, our farm system, and our environment. I also had a wonderful time tasting and savoring so many wonderful local agricultural products. In all, the expo reminded me that food which is produced sustainably and conscientiously is wholesome, healthy, and simply delicious.