Food Mavens in our Midst: Jim Slama

Oak Parker works to make local food more available for everyone

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By David Hammond

Last year, I attended the FamilyFarmed Expo, which is a fantastic three-day gathering of local farmers, chefs and diners who support locally grown and responsibly produced food and artisanal goods.

I had some questions for Jim Slama, the organizer of this event, about his Expo and the growing movement for sourcing locally produced food.

What was the motivation for starting Family Farmed?

For the past 12 years we have been working to build local food systems. The work began when we wanted to do a "buy local" campaign for food and then realized there wasn't much to buy. So we set out to support the growth of local food systems.

What are some of the achievements of Family Farmed?

 We are proud to have created the FamilyFarmed EXPO which is a conference and food festival promoting local and sustainable food. It is very unique and really brings the sustainable and local food community together to learn, do business, and have fun! We also do a lot of work to connect local food farmers and food businesses with markets. For example we have helped connect the Chicago Public Schools with local farmers and in the most recent school year they purchased over 1.8 million in produce from farmers in our network. We also work with companies like Whole Foods Market, Chipotle, Goodness Greeness, and Lettuce Entertain You to build their local food purchasing programs. To help farmers learn the skills needed to sell to larger scale buyers, we created the book, "Wholesale Success: A Farmer's Guilde to Selling, Post Harvest Handling, and Packing Produce. It is now nationally recognized as a great tool for farmers looking to scale up!

What’s new at this year’s Family Farmed Expo and what are some of the events/initiatives that you’re especially excited about?

 It's a great three day event. If folks are interested in the business of food, they should come for the full conference, which is really on the cutting edge. If they can only make it to the Food Festival and conference Saturday, here are some of the highlights:

Sally Fallon’s bestselling and controversial book, "Nourishing Traditions", helped launch the paradigm shift happening in America towards nutrient dense foods. She was an early proponent of whole animal consumption, raw milk, fermented foods, and local and organic food.

Farmer John Peterson will share his experience as a vegetable grower and CSA pioneer, cookbook author, and Filmmaker (The award winning documentary, “The Real Dirt of Farmer John.”) He will join panelists discussing “Please Your Palate and Your Purse” at 12:30 on Saturday and do a book and film signing afterwards. John is also speaking at the “Farm Success Stories” workshop at the Financing Farm to Fork Conference.

Thanks in part to Sally Fallon, Snout to Tale meat consumption is being widely adopted. Chef Paul Kahan of Blackbird, Avec, Publican, and Big Star headlines a remarkable group of speakers in The Conscious Carnivore workshop.

Dickson Despommier’s bestselling Book, "The Vertical Farm," makes the argument that we can grow a substantial portion of the food we need indoors in large scale production facilities. The 12:30 Saturday workshop, “Is Vertical Faming the Future of Urban Agriculture,” includes 4 leading Chicagoans that are or will grow food in the city.

Food Preservation is hot. Vie Restaurants’s Paul Virant headlines a workshop entitled “Yes We Can,” which explores techniques in pickling, freezing, canning, drying, and more.

Over the past few years, what are some of the changes you’ve noticed in the small farm/ eat local movement?

 The movement has grown substantially. It used to be just a small niche, but now everybody seems to want food from local family farmers. It's a great thing to watch it grow.

For more about Family Farmed Expo, which runs March 17-19 at the UIC Forum, visit their site:

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