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Good Food Communities

We dare dream of a food system in Cook County that is fair, humane, sustainable, local, healthy and equitable. That dream can be real!

Photo of Jose Oliva
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

HEAL (Health, Environment, Agriculture and Labor) Food Alliance.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Chicago Food Policy Action Council, Food Chain Workers Alliance, Illinois Stewardship Alliance.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Cook County, Illinois is the second most populous county in the U.S. with over 5,211,263 residents and a total area of 4,234.6 km2.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

As refugees fleeing Guatemala's civil war, my family chose Chicago to be our new home, in 1985 when I was 13 years old.  Chicago, Cook County, is where my wife and I chose to start our own family.  Today, both of our children attend Chicago Public Schools , where they and 300,000 other kids eat the food provided to them by the school.  

In 2018, we passed the Good Food Purchasing Policy in Cook County, a program we pioneered in Los Angeles in 2012. Through this policy, we have demonstrated that purchasers can serve food that is not only healthy, but environmentally sustainable, humane to animals, fair to workers throughout the supply chain and good for the local economy - all while meeting institutional budget restraints.  But we must do better to win changes for workers, and for producers. 

As Co-Director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance I learned from workers throughout the food supply chain who suffer and toil in what are often subhuman conditions.  As the Campaigns Director for HEAL I work alongside small-scale producers, many whom are people of color and women, who grow organic, healthy, sustainable food but are often locked out of market access because of institutional barriers. 

We believe Cook County is a baseline model for what’s possible in many other parts of the U.S. Its rural and urban areas mix industry, service and agriculture economies.  Cook County contains residential suburbs, inner city high-rise public housing, wealthy enclaves and middle and working class neighborhoods. In many ways Cook offers a unique opportunity in that it is not unique.   But unlike Los Angeles or New York City, it has vast agricultural land and a middle-America culture.  Unlike many rural counties, Cooks racially diverse populations co-exist with long-standing white farmers, which is the demographic shift many will experience in the coming decades.  If we can make Good Food Communities a reality in Cook County the odds are high that we can do it anywhere in the U.S.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The roots of Cook County are deeply steeped in the very American tradition of the "melting pot". In the mid-18th century, the area now known as Cook County was inhabited by the Potawatomi, a Native American tribe who had succeeded the Miami and Sauk and Fox peoples in this region.

The first known non-indigenous permanent settler in Chicago was explorer Jean Baptiste Point du Sable. Du Sable was of African and French descent and arrived in the 1780s. He is commonly known as the "Founder of Chicago".  It is of particular import that the first non-indigenous inhabitant of Cook County was both African American and of mixed heritage.  Over 30% of the county's population is African American. Latinx residents make up over 25% of the population.  The rest is made up of whites, Asians and others. This diversity is reflected in the width and breadth of food cultures across the county.

As of 2017, the Cook County population was 5,211,263. Its county seat is Chicago, the most populous city in Illinois and the third-most-populous city in the United States. More than 40% of all residents of Illinois live in Cook County.

Cook County's population is larger than that of 28 individual U.S. states, and the combined populations of the seven smallest states. The county was incorporated by the state in 1831, and there are 135 separately incorporated municipalities partially or wholly within Cook County, the largest of which is Chicago, which is home to approximately 54% of the population of the county.

Cook County is heavily segregated in both across the county and the City of Chicago.  Much of the wealth and economic opportunity is located in the north and northwest, with most of the poverty and populations with lower public health measures are in the south and western sections of the county.  This divide is represented in the food system as well- regarding affordable access to healthy food, economic opportunities for business and job creation, access to land and other capital, and connections into the major food purchasing supply chains for institutions. 

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The people of Cook County confront many issues in our food system today: 

* Environmental impacts of food production and food waste; 

* Worker rights violations, low wages, and health and safety issues in production, processing, logistics and retail food operations; 

* Problems caused by poor nutrition and lack of access to healthful food in rural communities and communities of color. 

These challenges are not unique to Cook County, and because of that, Cook County offers the perfect opportunity for modeling solutions that may be replicable to other regions.

According to the CDC, 59.3% of adults and 40% of third-grade students are overweight or obese in Cook County, and the rates of food-related disease are growing. For workers, matters are equally dire. Food Chain Workers Alliance interviewed hundreds of workers and found that food system workers require government assistance at 2.5 the rate of other workers to feed themselves and their families. There is an irony in that statistic: the workers that feed us are often unable to feed themselves. To make matters worse, environmental degradation caused by food processing operations is impacting communities of color at a disproportionate and unprecedented rate. In a wide-ranging investigation that spanned dozens of Illinois counties and analyzed more than 20,000 pages of government documents, the Chicago Tribune found that the growth of animal feeding operations has created a persistent new environmental hazard. Pig waste flowing into rural waterways from leaks and spills destroyed more than 490,000 fish in 67 miles of rivers over a 10-year span. No other industry came close to causing that amount of damage, the Tribune found. 

These issues are interconnected, and to solve any one of them, organizations in Cook County need to break down silos between their sectors and combine their efforts, bringing together the diverse skills and resources of each.  Too often, workers rights groups, such as unions and workers centers, are only focused on worker issues, environmental organizations are making headway on issues impacting the ecology of Illinois only. Health and nutrition groups focus solely on the outcomes of the other systems on the individual.  By working together, however we can build a food system healthy for our families, accessible and affordable for all communities, and fair to the people who grow, distribute, prepare, and serve our food. To transform our food system is to heal our bodies, transform our economy, and protect our environment.

The true innovation of this initiative lies in our ability to bring together non-government organizations, government, local businesses, civic organizations, farmers, workers, health advocates, environmentalists and animal welfare activists in one common vision of a food system that helps lift all of us.  

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

A successful example of a holistic approach currently being enacted in Illinois and other states is the Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP). It is a food procurement policy that focuses on the following 5 core principles of “good food”:

·      Locally produced foods when possible

·      Environmentally sustainable food production practices

·      Fair wages and working conditions for workers in the supply chain

·      Humane treatment of animals

·      Healthy food choices

This policy has been adopted by the City Council of Chicago and all its major city institutions such as Chicago Public Schools, airports, and the park district are meeting the program’s goals. This farm-to-table program is successful because it uses the principle of voting with our collective dollars on a large scale and shifting the quality of food through economic forces.

There have been major victories on a city level in Chicago and county level in Cook County with the Good Food Purchasing Policy (GFPP) in the policy arena.  However, in order to create more significant change a county-wide implementation plan needs to be enacted. 

Our vision is predicated on the theory of change that large institutions, with their super-sized purchasing power can indeed drive markets.  We as tax-payers and voters should have a say in what values our institutions adhere to when purchasing food.  This is especially true when that food is consumed by our children and other vulnerable populations. Our vision is of a food system in Cook County that we can be proud of and that can be a model for the rest of the country.  

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Food is our most intimate and powerful connection to others, to our cultures, and to the earth, and to transform our food system is to take one huge step towards healing our economy, our bodies, and our environment.

Crafted by 50+ organizations in the county, across the state and the US representing farmers, fishers, workers, rural and urban communities, scientists, health advocates, environmentalists, and indigenous groups, our vision of Good Food Communities serves as a call to action and a compass for transformation.

Good Food Communities builds on the success of the Good Food Purchasing Program as well as Minority and Women-Owned Business policies. Through Good Food Communities, we seek 1. living wages and better working conditions for frontline food workers, 2. institutional food contracts for small-scale producers of color and businesses of color who respect workers rights, 3. protections from food and farm-related pollution for communities, and 4. transparency mechanisms for public access to supply chain data and community involvement in implementation. This is in addition to, not instead of the five values of the Good Food Purchasing Program. 

Good Food Communities offers pathways for institutions participating in GFPP to gain points and improve their score in the Program based on equity. For example Good Food Communities will support the following kinds of businesses to win institutional food contracts: 

* Worker-owned cooperatives that have a stated mission to serve or is majority-owned by people of color;

* Farms and food businesses where frontline workers are paid a living wage and have a voice in the workplace; 

* Food vendors that invest in and hire from communities of color and that prioritize advancement opportunities for frontline workers; 

* Food businesses owned and operated by people of color, entrepreneurs of color, and farmers of color;

* Environmentally-sustainable businesses located in or within close proximity of a community of color. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Over the last three years, HEAL Food Alliance, Food Chain Workers Alliance and many of our members and allies, including Chicago Food Policy Council and the Illinois Stewardship Alliance have worked have worked together with the Center for Good Food Purchasing to expand and support good food procurement grounded in the values of fair, humane, environmental, nutritious, and local. To date, we’ve shifted $575 million in annual purchasing across 8 cities towards good food. While we take great pride in our achievements to date, we recognize that a deeper layer of leadership development, cross-community learning, strategic policy, and coalition building is essential to ensure that this work strengthens racial equity, transparency, and creates real benefits for frontline communities, including food workers.  

The US food system benefits a select few at the expense of the many, with the most devastating impacts experienced by people of color including women, workers, communities, indigenous people, African Americans, immigrants, and small farmers.  In an effort to address this, we’ve developed the  Over the last year, we developed this framework with input from members, partners and allies, including the Center for Good Food Purchasing.  Our next step is to launch a pilot effort that applies this framework to all of our procurement work in Cook County.  

More than half the food eaten in the US is consumed outside the home, with vulnerable children and families particularly reliant on public food programs through schools, hospitals, summer programs, and more. Good Food Communities re-invests public dollars into suppliers that have been most marginalized by our current systems, while benefiting these families.  

Good Food Communities is predicated on the assumptions that: (1) These investments by large institutional food purchasers will create demand for even more values-based supply; (2) Policy solutions are best enforced by multi-sector community-based coalitions; and (3) In order to change our food system we need to transform actors at the micro, meso and macro levels. The Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP) has built a solid foundation for values-based purchasing across the country. At the same time, there’s a need to specifically strengthen worker justice, racial equity, environmental justice, and transparency outcomes in public procurement. That’s because producers and suppliers of color still confront barriers to accessing institutional contracts and information about current suppliers for public institutions. Transparency and access are critical to leveraging procurement policy for better conditions and a fairer, greener, more affordable food system. That’s why the Good Food Communities framework includes four foci: 

* LIvable wages and safe workplaces for frontline food workers throughout the supply chain. 

* The food system is the largest employment sector in the United States, with over 1 out of every 7 workers (21.5 million) helping to get food to our tables.  Most food chain workers are in non-managerial, low-wage positions and are predominantly people of color, immigrants, and women.  These workers are at high risk for experiencing food insecurity, wage theft, lack of access to health care, harassment and intimidation, and workplace injury and illness--effecting them and their families.  In fact, food chain workers make the lowest hourly median wage, at $10 per hour, and are over twice as likely to be on food stamps than any other US worker.  Undocumented workers cannot even qualify for food stamps and often go hungry, even though many of them are harvesting the food that feeds the rest of America. 

* Contractual preferences for small-scale producers and businesses owned by people of color who respect workers’ rights.  These worker inequities are mirrored for food producers and businesses of color. Based on the 2012 US Census, African American farm owners make up only 1% of America’s farms and 79% are making less than $10,000 annually in farm sales. While the New Deal and financial assistance from the USDA created to support farmers, African American farmers were systematically kept from these services and consistently discriminated against (see Pigford I and II class action lawsuits). Likewise, Latinx and Indigenous farmers face inequitable access to resources and opportunities. Specifically considering the inequity of capitalist food economics, we know that farms and food businesses owned by people of color and women often face challenges in finding capital to start up or grow their businesses because of widespread discrimination at financial institutions.    

* Protecting communities of color and frontline workers from food and farm related pollution. The current food system, and the policies that support it, disproportionately hurt communities and workers of color and are harmful to our natural environment. Our U.S. food and agriculture system contributes to 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is a significant source of air, water, and soil pollution.  It is based on an extractive economy that exploits human labor and extracts natural resources at an unsustainable rate. The majority of food production relies heavily on animal confinements, mega-farms, and industrial fishing practices that produce exorbitant amounts of waste and causes irrevocable damage at every stage of the food chain.  Petroleum-based fertilizers and chemical pesticides cause nitrification of water, erode the soil, and expose farmworkers to carcinogens. Confined animal feeding operations release greenhouse gases that cause asthma in our communities.  And all dramatically contribute to climate change. 

Transparency in supply chain data and community involvement in implementation.

We've been testing out supply chain research to determine what the public really has access to and have learned first hand how critical it is to have procurement policies ensure public access to supply chain data and community involvement in procurement implementation. Local coalitions cannot help monitor implementation, hold institutions accountable, and play a helpful role in successfully transforming public supply chains if they do not know who the suppliers are. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Photo of osimomoh Bright

Hi Jose Olivia your Good Food Communities is a great vision worthy of commendation, keep up the good work.

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