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Blog

Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Chicago-area Whole Foods Markets team with Family Farmed to sell more locally grown produce

Cassandra West

During the winter months, many of the tomatoes in local Whole Foods Markets are imported from Mexico. This summer expect to find more Illinois-grown tomatoes in Chicago-area Whole Foods Markets. You can also expect more locally grown asparagus, melons, cucumbers and fruits, too. Through a partnership with FamilyFarmed.org, Whole Foods Markets has plans to increase fresh fruits and vegetables from growers in Illinois and other nearby states.

Jose Valadez, Whole Foods Markets’ head produce buyer for the Chicago region, spent the winter months traveling the state meeting with farmers who can provide the food chain with produce grown closer to its stores. “We’re looking for opportunities throughout the state” to work with farmers who can fulfill the stores’ produce needs, Valadez told Seeding Chicago. He’s met with farmers in Peoria, Grayslake and the Kankakee area who are interested in becoming WFM produce vendors.

To sell to WFM, growers have to submit applications for vetting by FamilyFarmed.org and then to WFM for further view, according to the Request for Information from Midwest Farmers obtained from FamilyFarmed.org, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that works to build and utilize local food systems.

Family Farmed’s forager James Pirovano, whose job is to find farmers and match them with buyers, says FF is working with growers throughout Illinois and all the bordering states.

Farmers who have substantial volumes of produce may be chosen to sell directly to the WFM Distribution Center in Indiana. Farmers will smaller volumes may be chosen to sell directly to one or more stores in Illinois. In those cases, store produce buyers may purchase products directly from farmers who will deliver their products the stores themselves.

“Our definition of local is 250 miles from the store,” said Kate Klotz, Whole Foods Markets Midwest Region public relations manager.

WFM is also contracting with farms about 40 miles from the city that grow microgreens such as broccoli, baby chard, spinach, Valadez said. “Our goal is to sell the highest quality products. We prefer organic, but that’s not always the case. Our focus is to increase the local penetration.”

WFM has 17 stores in the Chicago area.