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Food Day Chicago takes over Daley Plaza Thursday alongside the final outdoor farmers market of the season.

Food Day Chicago pushes fresh food, fresh outlooks

by Homa Bash
Oct 24, 2013

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National Food Day

Fresh fruits, fresh veggies and fresh minds filled Daley Plaza Thursday morning for the Third Annual Food Day Chicago – and the final outdoor farmers market of the season.


The event, celebrated nationwide, works to bring together nonprofits, community leaders, parents and children to promote healthy habits and the importance of food education for future generations.


 For the Windy City edition, about 15 organizations – from Chicago Public Schools to the Illinois Stewardship Alliance – began setting up in the brisk weather alongside established farmers market vendors like Sarah Disterheft about 6 a.m. Thursday.


Disterheft has been been making the nearly two-hour trek every Thursday to the Daley Plaza farmers market from Berrien Springs, Mich., all season long to sell the apples, pears and grapes grown on her family’s farm.


Also making a trek this Thursday – Wes King.


He's the executive director of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance and traveled with his team from the nonprofit's base in Springfield for Chicago Food Day.


“The environmental movement has Earth Day, the food movement now has Food Day,” he said.


There are a lot of obstacles to get everyone on board with lasting healthy habits, King said, but the biggest one is the lack of education.


“People aren't aware of what is available and, oftentimes, they don't know what to do with it,” King said. “I think the American population has lost some of the knowledge it used to have about cooking and preparing from-scratch meals.”


And that's the bridge Food Day hopes to cross.


The event, which began in 2011 by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, has grown each year, with about 4,500 events now held in all 50 states every Oct. 24th.


In Chicago, the day is filled with food-cooking demonstrations by accomplished chefs, presentations by local nonprofits and basic education about the benefits of healthy eating. Farmers market regulars mingled with curious onlookers as people alternatively picked up information packets and shiny apples.


Four CPS elementary schools brought fifth- and sixth-grade students for a field trip to learn about the importance of those healthy habits – and the importance of starting early.


Janet Wilhelms, volunteer and organizer for Food Day Chicago, said some of the children coming to the event Thursday were at a farmers market for the very first time in their lives.


“It's their chance to really see and learn from the organizations that are presenting, along with the farmers markets, and eating real food,” she added.


“The goal is to raise awareness in the public about food because America has so many health problems with the food we eat that makes us sick instead of making us happy,” said Lilia Smelkova, the campaign manager for the national Food Day movement.


“It's also about changing the policies and having more power compared to when groups work separately,” she added.


While this week marks the final day for outdoor farmers markets across the quickly chilling city, there are several indoor winter farmers markets scattered throughout Chicago, so that's one excuse for not eating healthy out the window.