Pandemic Response Reinforcement Resilience


Strengthening the food system and building a just future

The Chicago Region Food System Fund addresses hunger and business disruption by bolstering the region’s communities and local food system in response to COVID-19 and other systemic shocks. In April 2021, the Fund announced its second round of funding, awarding $2.9M to 48 grantees who are supporting long-term food system resilience. With the grants announced in April, the total support granted by the Fund is $6,917,150 to 105 non-profit organizations.

The COVID-19 pandemic is still with us—and the needs of the community and the food system are evolving. This round of funding centers on long-term food system resilience—without losing sight of the pandemic—and is rooted in racial and economic justice. Any definition of resilience requires diversity. The CRFSF team takes a broad view and encourages participation from diverse communities: urban neighborhoods and rural communities; tribal nations; LGBTQIA+ organizations; veterans; food chain workers; food system businesses; investors; and more. The Fund will prioritize BIPOC-led organizations promoting food system resilience in BIPOC communities.

Examples of the kinds of organizations the Fund could support include nonprofits:
  • Able to support community associations providing local food and food system support to neighbors, such as block clubs, cultural associations, and community gardens.
  • Developing new business models—alone or in partnership with businesses—to rapidly improve food distribution, consumer connection, and infrastructure while reducing wasted food.
  • Collaborating with farmers, urban and rural, who prioritize sales into local and regional markets, especially in communities of color.
  • Working with food chain workers at high risk of contracting COVID-19.
  • Focusing on innovation, investment, policy, or media narratives to reduce barriers and take advantage of market shifts.
When times are easy and there’s plenty to go around, individual species can go it alone. But when conditions are harsh and life is tenuous, it takes a team sworn to reciprocity to keep life going forward. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants Robin Wall Kimmerer, Author/Professor

Acknowledging traditional stewards

Chicago is part of the traditional homelands of the Council of the Three Fires: the Odawa, Anishinabeg, and Potawatomi nations. Many other tribes—such as the Miami, Ho-Chunk, Meskwaki, and Menominee—also called this area home. The land is a site of trade, gathering and healing for countless other Native nations throughout time immemorial. The Chicago Region Food System Fund includes other land stewarded by the Oneida, Lakota, Kickapoo, and Peoria people who have protected the land and waters of this region in the past and present. We honor tribal nations and their treaty rights which, in this region, affirm food sovereignty through traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering rights. 

Adapting to strengthen resilience in the food system

The pandemic has taught us a lot. A resilient food system is resilient because people, land, and communities are able to adapt to changing conditions, including major shocks, in ways that minimize immediate losses and strengthen the capacity for everyone to thrive. Food system nonprofits and businesses are moving quickly based on that experience, building on assets, and prototyping new ways of doing things in this changed context. It’s a dynamic moment. The CRFSF team wants to support and accelerate that dynamism as much as possible, both in the grants we make and how we partner to capture learning with a commitment to continual improvement.

Diverse approaches, hopeful future

Some see resilience in the context of climate change. Others in the ability to live through and transform trauma. Still others see it as food sovereignty rooted in traditional ecological knowledge as practiced by indigenous communities. Or in locally owned and well-integrated food businesses. No one approach can define and ensure resilience—but together the region’s vibrant web of rural, urban, and peri-urban food communities can build a resilient, racially and economically just future


With the current round of funding, the CRFSF is moving beyond immediate emergency response to resilience — while keeping COVID-19 at the center. This application cycle closed on January 13.

Eligibility Criteria

Only 501(c)(3) organizations or fiscal sponsors are eligible to apply, and there are loose geographic restrictions. The Chicago Region Food Fund focuses on an area roughly 200 miles from Chicago. Tribal nations located more than 200 miles from Chicago are eligible to apply if the Chicago region is part of their market. Previous CRFSF grantees are eligible to reapply. See the CRFSF FAQs & Resource page for more info.

  • In Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will counties, funding consideration includes nonprofits working with: urban and peri-urban farmers; food hubs/cooperatives; farmers markets; community organizations with close ties to informal community associations; food businesses (processors, distributors, slaughterhouses, retail, restaurants, institutional providers); food chain workers impacted by COVID or at a high-risk of contracting the virus; emergency food system organizations integrating local food; and wasted food projects.
  • Funding consideration in other regions of Illinois, southeast Wisconsin, northwest Indiana, and southwest Michigan is for nonprofits working with rural farmers, food aggregation hubs, and food processors that include the Chicago metropolitan area as part of their market. This includes nonprofits supporting food chain workers impacted by COVID-19 or at high risk of contracting the virus. Tribal nations and indigenous peoples’ organizations that prioritize the Chicago region as part of a food sovereignty strategy will also be considered.


Applications for the current round of funding are no longer being accepted. If you have recently applied or if you are a current grantee, please use the link below to access the online application system using your existing log-in.

Grant Focus and Timing

This application cycle closed on January 13. CRFSF initially anticipated announcing the funding decisions in mid-February. However, due to the very competitive nature of this grant cycle, we expect the review process to take a bit longer. We hope to announce decisions in early April. Thank you for your patience.



You can watch a recording of the December 3 webinar about the current round of funding here. (Looking for technical support? Email



The fund was created through the generosity of the founding donors with an initial investment of $4.2M and is managed by Fresh Taste, fiscally sponsored by Forefront.

The Builders Initiative
Fresh Taste
Little Owl Foundation
The Lumpkin Family Foundation
Margot L. Pritzker Fund
Walder Foundation
Walter Mander Foundation


Amanda Hanley Climate Fund
James F. Beré Family Fund at The Chicago Community Trust
The Benida Group LLC


Advisor: Betty Emarita, Development & Training, Inc. 

Website design: Right Angle Studio, Inc.



If you have any questions about the Chicago Region Food System Fund, including support for applications, email or call 773-944-5100.

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Media inquiries—Please contact Brandon Hayes, Founder, Bold Bison Communications & Consulting, at 312-945-8416,

Photos courtesy of Plant Chicago, Elawa Farm Foundation, Chinese American Service League, and Gary Comer Youth Center.

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