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 September 30, the Fund has awarded 81 grants totaling $3.4M. 

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.


First of all, please “come as you are.” Tell us what you’re doing and what you need without worrying about making it perfect. We don’t require a long and complicated proposal. There is an initial screening questionnaire. You will be notified as soon as possible if you will be invited to submit a full application which is intended to be brief and not burdensome.

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 will focus on COVID-19 response projects, with a special interest in projects that strengthen the food system. Priority will be given to organizations producing food in and supplying food to communities of color, particularly those led by people of color. Inquiries will be reviewed, and funds disbursed on a rolling basis. Grants from $5,000 to $250,000 will be considered.

In the autumn, the Fund will offer a second round of funding informed by learning from the Response round focused on Resilience to build a just future food system capable of handling shocks like COVID-19.


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.



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,

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