by BRITTANY MAGEE
CHICAGO— The local and organic food movement got a major boost this week with the launch of FamilyFarmed.org’s Good Food Business Accelerator. The aim, organizers say, is to help local farmers’ and food artisans’ expansion into a larger market and strengthen the local, sustainable food system.
The goal “is to work with entrepreneurs to get them ready for primetime,” said president of FamilyFarmed.org, Jim Slama.
“We want to get them invested in, get them introduced to customers, get them financed and help take them to the next level and grow the supply of Good Food,” Slama told to a sold out event Wednesday evening at 1871, an innovation hub for Chicago business and technology start-ups.
The Good Food Business Accelerator’ fellowship program will provide eight fellows with mentoring, strategic support and access to capital. Slama describes it as a Good Food cluster of “entrepreneurs, financiers, mentors, trade buyers, customers, government agencies and policy makers,” that will help the fellows reach a larger market and expand the local, sustainable food system.
Beginning in November, each fellow will spend six months in the accelerator developing their business plan that mirrors the growing Good Food movement’s values. The movement promotes increased access to healthy, sustainable food that’s produced by local farmers and businesses that use humane and fair practices. As the movement has grown, the demand for ‘Good Food’ has also increased.
The rise in demand for organic and local food reflects consumers’ desire for healthier food options, said Mary Chapman, the senior director of product innovation at Technomic, Inc., a consulting and research firm serving the foodservice industry.
“Consumers like more transparency,” Chapman said in a phone interview. “It means that the food is not mass produced.”
The government is also taking notice of the trend: On Monday, the Good Food Business Accelerator learned it had won an award of nearly $100,000 from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service as part of the agency’s $52 million in grants to foster organic and local food systems.
“Investing in local and regional food systems supports the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers, especially smaller operations, while strengthening economics in communities across the country,” said Tom Vilsack, secretary of the USDA, in the press release announcing the disbursement of the grants.
Partners and mentors in the accelerator and fellowship include Whole Foods Market, leading organic food distributor UNFI, Chicago-based restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You, distributor Goodness Greenness and venture capital group 2x Consumer Products.
Learning how to manage business effectively is imperative for entrepreneurs said John Hall, the founder of Goose Island Brewery, on the panel at Wednesday’s event.
“The accelerator is only going to make this much more efficient, and be able to serve a lot more companies and entrepreneurs going forward,” he said.
Applications for the Good Food Business Accelerator are being accepted until Oct. 20.