Friday, April 1, 2011

FamilyFarmed EXPO 2011

My first, but FamilyFarmed's sixth EXPO was held at the UIC Forum on March 17-19. Saying the least, it was one of the best events I have been to. I have always had this perception from my experiences at Chicago's farmers markets, literature I have read and restaurants I have seen serving local food that sustainable producers are one of the most welcoming and wide-spread, yet seemingly tight-knit communities of people.

However, my perception became a belief through the FamilyFarmed EXPO. As FamilyFarmed's mission states:’s Mission is to expand the production, marketing and distribution of locally grown and responsibly produced food, in order to enhance the social, economic and environmental health of our communities.
Through the EXPO FamilyFarmed brought together local farmers and producers, chefs and other food experts from all over the Midwest. The mix of speeches, demos, panels, food purchasing, and of course, sampling attracted attendants from all different backgrounds.

Volunteers were allowed to experience the EXPO for free while completing about two 3 hour shifts. Volunteering for sustainability-related events is always a win-win! They get to experience a eye-opening event, meet great, like-minded people, learn too much to take in and usually get a free T-shirt!

While volunteering on Friday, I greeted people into the Opening Symposium while helping direct vendors to the correct room. During that time I had great conversation with other volunteers about different opportunities and experiences around the city of Chicago in relation to sustainability and spoke with Sam Yoder about how he, as a student, implemented the first success composting initiative at UIC! (besides the urban farm, of course)

Next, I had to supervise a panel on local meat titled:
"Large Scale Sustainable Meat Procurement"
Meat producers discuss opportunities and challenges they face meeting marketplace demand.

Pete Bassitt, Organic Prarie
Bill Kurtis, Tallgrass Beef
Patty Whisnant, American Grassfed Beef
Paul Willis, Niman Ranch Pork Company
Moderator: Chris Ely, Applegate Farms

After my volunteering shift, I ate a provided lunch from Gourmet Gorilla. My veggie, hummus sandwich, buckwheat salad, fruit, potato chips and brownie all came packaged in compostable materials, including the cutlery! The packaging materials they used were made from corn by-products.

After tossing my remains into the compost bins, I dove into the rows of vendors to take a quick run through of who was there. Well, my "quick" run through lasted about two hours! I was approaching so many new and delicious things that I couldn't walk away from the majority of the booths without having a conversation with the vendors. I learned about hydroponics, farming schools, stories of how vendors came to be living out their passion, volunteering opportunities for students (and myself of course) and what amazing varieties of food people make- bleu cheese from white cheddar and blueberry coffee may have been my favorite! I have to admit, the grass-fed, all "good" meat, beef hot dog I tried was so different and delicious I had to take two samples...

Most of the day Friday I spent checking wrist bands and watching over the compost stations. I met Lloyd Yanis, the FamilyFarmed event organizer and learned a little more about FamilyFarmed and how they view their mission. I did attend on seminar called:
"Better Food, Better Communities, Better Planet"
How to make a positive change in your community through food activism.

Mari Gallagher, Mari Gallagher Research & Consulting Group
Julia Govis, Illinois Farm to School
Leah Ray, The Peterson Garden Project
Moderator: Bianca Alexander, Conscious Living TV

Pos & Volunteer

In the end, the 2011 FamilyFarmed EXPO was quoted as the best yet! As for UIC, we should be proud to have hosted such a successful event through our great location and hard-working students that brought together many different people all with the idea of wanting to create a positive impact on society through food.

Sam Yoder, an electrical engineering student and head of the EXPO composting reported, "compostable waste ended up being around 3/4 of the waste collected, which exceeded all expectations."
Trash accumulated on Saturday
Sam Yoder with the compostable waste
As a full-on volunteer, Yoder took away a lot more than many volunteers would have. In an interview he stated, "I discovered how passionate I am about composting. I feel that something like this could really be applied on campus. Obviously it would take a good deal of work to set up and get running, but once people are educated about the importance of the project, and how to help, it would slowly become common practice for students."

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