Pandemic Response Reinforcement Resilience


Strengthening the system and building a just future

The Chicago Region Food System Fund responds to hunger and business disruption by bolstering the region’s communities and local food system to withstand COVID-19. With an initial investment of $4.2M, the Fund has grown to more than $7.3M. As of October 12, the Fund has awarded 85 grants totaling $3.97M.  This website will be updated with information about a new round of funding to be launched in November to support food system resilience. Sign up here to receive updates.

Impacts of the coronavirus have been swift and massive. People go hungry while some farmers watch their food go to waste for lack of markets. Frontline workers—those working in meat processing plants and as cashiers and delivery drivers—have higher rates of exposure, more positive coronavirus results, lower wages, and higher mortality rates. Small businesses have lost their customer bases overnight. Communities of color are the hardest hit, suffering disproportionate health and economic impacts resulting from structural racism. This Fund aims to address these impacts.

Examples of the kinds of organizations the Fund will support could include nonprofits:
  • Critical to the food system that have limited access to unrestricted dollars.
  • Able to support community associations providing 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, adapting to changing conditions 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.
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

Grounded in racial and economic equity

While COVID-19 is a serious disease that is a danger to all communities, it strikes people of color in the Chicago region at much higher rates than it does white residents. The killing of George Floyd and the subsequent groundswell of protests emerged from the same context of structural racism from which the disproportionate rates of COVID-19 illness and death in communities of color result.

New models and structures are necessary for a truly resilient food system grounded in racial and economic equity. This requires a commitment to confront the systemic racism and wealth disparity in the current food system and to develop new approaches to food systems that prioritize them. It also requires a strong commitment to struggling rural communities and the farmers and food businesses that support them. This Fund aims to address present needs and build a bridge to a resilient, racially and economically just future.

Hope in newly emerging collaborations

COVID-19 has also revealed underlying strengths in Chicago’s regional food system. Chicago is part of a vibrant web of rural, urban, and peri-urban food value chains whose vitality makes the Chicago region stronger. This food system relies on diverse communities that draw on deep connections to strengthen mutual aid networks, generating life-saving responses emerging from their cultures and community assets.

Hope for the future has already emerged. Nonprofits and food businesses within and across communities collaborate to improve food distribution, consumer connection, and infrastructure. They create new business models in the process. Farmers and farmers markets are working hard to find new and creative ways to bring healthy, culturally relevant food to the region’s tables as demand for local food soars and farmers struggle to meet it.


Information about applying for the next round of funding will be announced in mid-November. Sign up in the “Contact Us” section below to receive email updates.

Eligibility Criteria

Only 501(c)(3) organizations are eligible to apply, and there are loose geographic restrictions.

The Chicago Region Food Fund focuses on an area roughly 200 miles from Chicago, which is about a day’s drive to or from the city.

  • In Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will counties, funding consideration includes nonprofits serving or collaborating with: 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 support; and wasted food projects.
  • Funding consideration in other regions of Illinois, southeast Wisconsin, northwest Indiana, and southwest Michigan is for nonprofits serving 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.


The application period for the first round of CRFSF ended on August 10. The Fund is planning a second round of funding in the autumn focused on resilience in the food system.  Please check back or sign up for our email list to receive announcements from the Fund. (NOTE: Current applicants can use the log-in link below to access their documents.)

Grant Focus and Timing

Initially, the Fund focused on COVID-19 response projects, including emergency food relief. The second round of funding, Resilience, will shift from rapid-response funding to innovative projects that strengthen the food system for long-term resilience in our changing world–including major shocks–in ways that minimize immediate losses and strengthen the capacity for long-term thriving. Funding will continue to be rooted in racial equity and food sovereignty, with an additional focus on networks and connections to the local food system. Sign up here to receive announcements about the Resilience Round, which will be launched in mid-November.



The Chicago Region Food System Fund awarded 85 grants totaling $3.97M in the first round, Response. Learn more about some of the grantees’ important work to strengthen and create a more equitable local food system and to provide food to those in need during the pandemic by viewing our Featured Grantees below.  Check back often, as we’ll continue adding more grantee pages, and you can see the full list of grantees here.


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


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.


Grants for Local Food Organizations

It’s almost impossible to talk about food right now without also examining the effects of COVID-19 on food production, distribution and availability.


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

Sign up for our email list to receive announcements from the Fund.

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

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