Local Food Systems

Openlands supports the greater metropolitan region’s local food system through policy and advocacy, preserving farmland and natural assets, and connecting people to the land through access to fresh, healthy food.

Our region’s rich agricultural legacy faces intense challenges as farms undergo generational changes and as former agricultural land is developed. Despite ample farmland, only one percent of our region’s food is locally grown.

A strong local food system has positive impacts on the economic and environmental health of communities, as well as on the long-term productive and sustainable use of land. Openlands’ food and farmland work addresses the challenges that our regional local food system currently faces, such as vanishing farmland and barriers faced by new farmers when accessing affordable farmland.

Openlands supports farmland protection through diverse approaches that draw on our 50+ years of land protection expertise. We hold conservation easements that support agricultural uses and limit development of land. We partner with organizations and governments to protect land for urban agriculture initiatives. Our research efforts have also assessed the barriers and recommended actions to promote successful local food production in two northeastern Illinois counties.

We recognize the difficulties that farmers face in finding affordable land to lease or buy for start-up or expanded agricultural businesses. Openlands collaborates with landowners and farmers to bridge that gap between land access and affordability and to pilot new projects that demonstrate the interconnected nature of conservation and food production.


Land Access Pilot Project

The Land Access Pilot Project, an innovative partnership between Openlands and Liberty Prairie Foundation, is designed as a three-year initiative to increase sustainable local food farming on public and privately owned lands in northeastern Illinois. The project is generously funded through Food:Land:Opportunity–Localizing the Chicago Foodshed, a multi-year funding initiative of The Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust. Click here for more information about the Land Access Pilot Project.

Click here for Breaking Ground : A Guide to Growing Land Access for Local Food Farming in Northeast Illinois.

For more information, please contact foodsandfarmland@openlands.org.