grew out of Sustain’s Local Organic Initiative. Sustain encourages regional family farmers to grow food to meet this local demand and works with businesses and universities to develop marketing and distribution infrastructure to enable local stores and restaurants to provide fresh, healthy, locally grown food. Chicago-area consumers purchase more than $300 million worth of organic food each year, with the vast majority of this food traveling from California, Central America or points even farther away.

By redirecting these purchases to local providers we encourage the growth of local food systems. This will benefit the Midwest region benefit in many ways. Local organic food systems support local economies by providing jobs, helping combat sprawl and enabling farmland preservation, fostering environmental and community health, and providing consumers with choices by making fresh, safe food available. By producing food locally, the revenue from sales remains within the local community, benefiting local producers and those who support these farmers with goods and services. Ultimately, the reduction in food miles will lead to a balanced local food system and provide a tremendous local economic development boost to the entire region.

Sustain launched the Local Organic Initiative in 2002, and it already has generated a bumper crop of results. Working with over 50 regional partners, we developed a strategic plan that broadly surveyed the challenges and opportunities in building a local organic food system. This process led to the publication of “The Land of Organic Opportunity,” which has received local and national media attention. For the past two years, Sustain has been engaged in a feasibility study looking at the needs of a local organic food system in Illinois. These results will be released in the second quarter of 2005.

Preliminary findings from the feasibility study inspired the creation of the 2004 Local Organic Trade Show, which brought representatives of more than 500 regional farmers together with buyers and top chefs from many of the Chicago area’s largest food retailers and 70 restaurants. Producers found new customers for their products and restaurants, retailers and wholesalers discovered new sources of local organic food for their operations. Farmers who were there are have reported increases in their sales due to their participation. As a result of this successful show, Sustain created, which includes an annual EXPO at Chicago’s Navy Pier and features the Local Organic Food Festival, a full day dedicated to the public, as well as the Local Organic Trade Show.

The Local Organic Initiative has attracted major public support. Partners include the United States Department of Agriculture, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and the City of Chicago. Sustain president Jim Slama serves on the Agricultural Advisory Council organized by the Governor of Illinois and is a member of Mayor Daley’s Chicago Organic Committee. Sustain is collaborating with many of the top academic and agricultural leaders in the region to focus on the needs of farmers for research, development and training.