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GM Farm Visit: Spence Farm

Building a co-op like ours that plans for an exceptional amount of local food means getting to know our farmers!

I'm new to town, but the Board at Chicago Market has built deep relationships with our region's growers and ranchers, which makes my work easier. Board member Grant Kessler took me down to the farm recently for a "walk and talk" with Marty Travis at Spence Farm. Developing relationships with farmers like Marty ensures our success getting the foods we all want on our shelves. 

He and his son Will operate Spence Farm in Fairbury, IL, just 120 miles from our store. Spence is a very diverse farm growing everything from heirloom corns and beans to squash and peppers. That's Double Red corn you see in these photos and he's excited to be growing an unusual yellow Nardello pepper this year. Their wide variety appeals to Chicago's best chefs — our Owners Rick Bayless and Paul Fehribach both buy from them regularly. 

But Marty does not stop his work at his farm. He is a food system thinker and has for years been building a network of around 80 farmers, most within an hour or so of him, who he markets and delivers for. Marty is particularly good at encouraging younger farmers, often starting at high school age. This group, Down at the Farms, commit to sustainable growing practices and together they offer so much delicious local food, 52 weeks of the year!

I was especially excited to see the little one-room schoolhouse building on Spence's grounds. It dates to 1860 and will allow me to take staff and our community out to the farm to connect them to the sources of our food in such a meaningful way. 

I'm so excited that the store we're building together has so much impact. It'll bring us all delicious local foods while helping support and revitalize hundreds of our rural farmer friends. 

Speaking of delicious, our day ended with a stop at the Kilgus Farmstead store for a pastured-cream soft-serve ice cream cone!


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