GoodFoodFestivalNo1

Explore your inner urban farmer at the Good Food Fest

PHOTO: Learn how to grow your own and so much more at the 11th annual Good Food Festival & Conference, which kicks off Thursday.  | BARRY BRECHEISEN PHOTO

Get ready! The 11th annual Good Food Festival & Conference kicks off on Thursday, March 19.

I actually remember getting the press release for the first festival when I was Food editor at the Sun-Times. It talked about urban farming. Wow, what an idea, I thought. Farming in the city?

If memory serves, the festival was held at the Cultural Center in Chicago’s Loop and about 300 showed up. But boy, was Jim Slama, the founder of FamilyFarmed.org and the Good Food Festival, onto something. The idea that yes, you can indeed farm and grow food within at urban area certainly has become a reality. How this festival has grown! Current figures show more than 5,000 attend and participate in the three-day event.

But I digress. Back to what will be going on and why you want to put it on your must-do list for the week.

As it’s grown, so has the length of it. The event — presented by FamilyFarmed and sponsored by Whole Foods Market — is now three days and is held at the UIC Forum on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus (725 W. Roosevelt).

Thursday is centered around financing and innovation, because even the most creative good eating idea will go nowhere without funding to sustain it. There are a day’s worth of programs built around that.

Friday there are a number of topics being tackled, including sessions where food policy will be discussed; advice from experts and others in the field on how Good Food professionals can improve their businesses and grow more; and sessions on how to get more local and sustainable food to schoolchildren.

Saturday is the popular Good Food Festival. As it always has been, this day is a family-friendly event. There’s an interactive area for kids. There are more than 50 mini workshops on gardening, cooking, preserving and more. Among the DIY workshops is a session on making your own flour, oatmeal and polenta by milling local and heirloom grains at home. That one will be led by Dave and Megan Miller of Baker Miller Bakery & Milhouse in Logan Square.

More than 150 exhibitors will be featured in the big hall section of the festival, including artisanal food producers, retailers and nonprofits involved in promoting eating well.

It’ll be a treat for your taste buds too with a number of vendors offering samples of their wares. There also will be cooking demos pairing local chefs with farmers to create dishes for the day.

There’s so much going on (Localicious, the annual food and drink tasting party is Friday evening, there are urban farm bus tours, etc.) there really is too much to mention. Go to the website to see all the different activities involved in the event.

To buy tickets, go here.