Chefs Make Change: Rick Bayless for Frontera Farmer Foundation

For Chicago chef Rick Bayless, the best food requires great local ingredients. Bayless started Frontera Farmer Organization to help small, sustainable farms grow. 

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Frontera Farmer Foundation promotes small, sustainable Midwestern producers by giving $12,000 capital development grants, enough to jump a farm ahead by five years. The money helps growers in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. rickbayless.com/foundation.

Success Story “We’ve probably funded more hoop houses than anything else, which means that local farmers can grow stuff in the winter. The very first project we funded, 15 years ago, was a hoop house for spinach. Now, you can go into any restaurant in Chicago in January or February and find local spinach on the menu, because of that one grant.”

Philosophy “You can’t have great local cuisine if you’re bringing in food from around the world. It’s not sustainable, and it also never feels like it’s of the place.”

Power of the Midsize Farm “We can help farms become larger and more efficient, and eventually make more money. The poultry guy who sells to my restaurants is a beautiful example of this. At first he raised only pastured pigs, which we loved, but we already had a pig farmer. So we said, ‘You probably have chickens, too, don’t you? We want you to do chicken for us the same way you do pork.’ Eight years later, he’s the largest pastured-poultry farmer in the US.”

Farming’s Future “Ten years ago, we used to hear statistics that all the farmers were getting old and the profession was dying. But now you see so many young farmers, and that’s very encouraging. I don’t see hipsters; I see young families doing what they really want to do.”

His Sandwich Recipe for F&W “The torta is in honor of our mushroom farmer. He was just raising mushrooms when he applied for a grant to put in a processing kitchen, so he could can them and make mushroom pickles and salsa. His business has taken off.”

Video Video: Rick Bayless in the Kitchen

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