Why plans to connect big grocers and small farmers haven’t worked, inflation’s impact on local restaurants and more in your Chicago news roundup

Today’s update is a 5-minute read that will brief you on the day’s biggest stories.

SHARE Why plans to connect big grocers and small farmers haven’t worked, inflation’s impact on local restaurants and more in your Chicago news roundup

Natasha Nicholes owns two farms in West Pullman with her husband, Shomari.


Good afternoon. Here’s the latest news you need to know in Chicago. It’s about a five-minute read that will brief you on today’s biggest stories.

This afternoon will be cloudy with snow showers and a high near 26 degrees. Tonight, expect some light snow and a low near 22. Tomorrow will be cloudy, also with a chance of snow, and a high near 28. Sunday will be sunny with a high near 31.

Top story

Big-box supermarkets, small local farmers around Chicago have struggled to work together

Nine years ago, the woman- and Black-owned Urban Growers Collective secured a great deal selling produce from a Bridgeport farm to Walgreens.

At the time, the Deerfield-based drugstore giant was at the vanguard of stores touting expanded fresh food, fruits and vegetable offerings, particularly in neighborhoods considered food deserts — without much access to supermarkets. The Austin, Texas-based retailer Whole Foods used that playbook, too. It touted buying from small, Midwest farms when it opened a store six years ago in Englewood. Even Walmart crowed about locally grown cantaloupes and corn when it opened a supercenter in Austin.

The idea behind all of these efforts was to boost availability of healthy, local produce in neighborhoods where it was scarce while supporting the region’s agricultural ecosystem. Now, the Whole Foods in Englewood has closed, and there’s little sign of local produce at Walgreens and Walmart stores. 

So why have such ambitious plans to connect big grocers to small farmers withered, and what happened to the farms?

Walgreens’ partnership with the Urban Growers Collective and other local farms ended after 15 months because it turned out to be too expensive to weave small agricultural operations into a massive supply chain.

The drive to grow produce at a volume required to sell to big stores, in many cases, left local farmers in the lurch because they were unable to scale up quickly enough to meet demand. And, although people love farmers’ markets, value and efficiency seem to dominate their thinking when they go to a grocery store.

“The more the grocery industry shifts to buy online and delivery, the less likely the consumer will be interested in the origin of those products,” said Steve Tracey, executive director of Penn State University’s Center for Supply Chain Research.

WBEZ’s Sandra Guy has more on the supermarket-local farmers relationship here.

More news you need

  1. A Cook County judge ordered Heather Mack’s daughter into the temporary care of a maternal cousin of Mack’s from Colorado at the end of a contentious, hourslong hearing yesterday — despite Mack asking the judge from jail to choose the girl’s grandmother instead. Mack is currently incarcerated at the Metropolitan Correctional Center under indictment for conspiring to kill her own mother, Sheila von Wiese-Mack, in 2014.
  2. A judge today acquitted Ruben Roman on gun charges tied to a 2021 shooting that set in motion a series of events that ended with 13-year-old Adam Toledo being gunned down by a Chicago Police officer in 2021. Our Andy Grimm has more on the judge’s ruling here.
  3. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart yesterday said that his agency will acquire a helicopter to try and track carjackers, look for missing people and offer aid during large-scale emergencies. The Cook County Board approved $11.4 million in next year’s budget to get one, according to Dart, who said the money was carried over from funds that weren’t spent in the 2022 budget.
  4. After months of pushback from community members concerned about mega-festivals taking over a neighborhood park, the Chicago Park District is implementing changes to the permitting process. Events with 10,000 or more attendees per day will now be required to receive approval from the district’s Board of Commissioners before the permit is issued, according to the Park District.
  5. The Field Museum will not voluntarily sign off on an effort by employees to form a union, museum officials announced today. Leaders of the union effort say a majority of the 330 workers it would represent have signed on but museum officials want to see it put to a vote.
  6. In other labor news, faculty members at the University of Illinois at Chicago have voted to authorize a strike as their union negotiates better pay, lighter workloads and stronger job security. Leaders with the UIC United Faculty union said 77% of their nearly 900 members voted, and nearly all supported a strike. A walkout date has not been announced.
  7. At the storied Manny’s Cafeteria & Delicatessen, the price for a corned beef sandwich on rye is up. At Lou Malnati’s Pizza, customers are seeing an 8% across-the-board increase. It’s all part of inflation’s impact on local restaurants, which has also prompted places to cut hours and portions, WBEZ’s Michael Gerstein reports.
  8. Fifty-five Chicago storefronts will come to life over the holidays and cold winter months providing showcase space for entrepreneurs and artists, thanks to a $2 million program aimed at generating sorely needed foot traffic. With retailers who managed to survive the pandemic still struggling to attract inflation-weary consumers, Mayor Lori Lightfoot launched the so-called “Small Business Storefront Activation Program.”
  9. Ex-First Lady Michelle Obama kicked off the tour to promote her new book, “The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times,” with sold-out crowds earlier this week at the Warner Theatre in Washington. Our Lynn Sweet has more on the details of the book here.
  10. About 2.7 million travelers in Illinois are expected to fly for Thanksgiving this year, according to figures from AAA, meaning you can expect pre-pandemic levels of congestion at airports and on roadways. Our Mitch Dudek shares tips for Thanksgiving travelers here.
  11. Chicago’s holiday season unofficially kicks off tonight with the lighting of the tree in Millennium Park, ushering in over a month of holiday cheer. Check out our Holiday Guide 2022 for a full list of festive things to do; theater, film, music and dance offerings to catch; and recipes to try at home — courtesy of local chefs. Pick up a copy of our newspaper on Sunday for a premium print version of the guide or dive in online here.

A bright one

Chicago chef Bill Kim’s Korean rice cake soup with simmered dumplings recipe

Just about everyone has a certain dish or dessert they associate with the holidays, one that can feel like home or take you back to celebrations of past holidays one bite at a time.

For our “Holiday dining at home” series, we caught up with chef Bill Kim, of urbanbelly (1542 N. Damen Ave.) and The Table at Crate (35 Oakbrook Center, Oak Brook), and asked him about the holiday recipe that feels like home for him.

For Kim, it’s Tteok Guk with Mandu, or Korean rice cake soup with simmered dumplings.

“Korean rice cake soup is my favorite thing — really a childhood memory for me,” Kim told the Sun-Times. “The dish is something that’s eaten as a celebration when you’re a kid in Korea.”

Chef Bill Kim is photographed at urbanbelly in Wicker Park.

Chef Bill Kim is photographed at urbanbelly in Wicker Park.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

It’s also a soup you can have on New Year’s to bring you good luck into the next year, Kim said.

“I still ask my mom to make it for me every year because I love it so much,” Kim said. “It’s something that we connect with and it reminds me of how I grew up as a child.”

Ingredients include 8 oz of store-bought raw Korean BBQ Beef (Bulgogi), 5 cups low-sodium beef broth, 1 cup cold water, 1 tbsp chopped garlic, 10 pieces store-bought beef dumplings, 2 cups sliced fresh rice cakes and 1⁄2 cup scallion, chopped.

Chef Kim tells you how to put it all together to create this delicious dish here.

From the press box

Your daily question☕

What makes Chicago the best place to celebrate the holidays?

Send us an email at newsletters@suntimes.com and we might feature your answer in the next Afternoon Edition.

Yesterday we asked you: What tips do you have for someone riding CTA for the first time?

Here’s what some of you said...

“Have your fare ready. Be patient.” — Rick Cotton

“If you’ve been at your bus stop for over 30 minutes, there’s probably been a route change.” — Elle Qohen

“Sit by the door and/or behind the driver.” — Crystal Harris

“Look before you sit.” — Laura Kotelman

“Don’t fall asleep you end up downtown or in suburbs!” — Gerardo Valadez

“Take a look at a map before you go! It’s extremely helpful to make sure you don’t miss your stop.” — Matthew Verive

“Unfortunately — keep a can of mace with you. Don’t wear jewelry/fur coat/purse/backpack/be on the phone or have headphones on. Stay in the middle of the platform. If you can, travel in packs. Above all, keep your eyes and ears open.” — Pamela Howard

“Leave early, plan your route ahead of time plus know an alternate since sometimes things can happen and they do happen.” — Jenn Krause

“Stay off your phone. If you are listening to music, have one earphone playing.” — Brian Johnson

Plan on extra time because trains and buses regularly run late despite what your app says. Also, don’t get too involved on your phone and miss your stop — said with experience.” — Howard Moore

“Ask questions. It can be extremely confusing, especially transferring from one el to subway and back to the el. Not to mention, obtaining and using Ventra cards which is also confusing. Most people are happy to help, or so I’ve found.” — Rose Panieri

“Buy a Ventra card.” — Andrew Zwick

“Take a seat if possible. Do not block doorways or aisles. Keep your feet off the furniture. Pay attention to where you are and where you are going. Enjoy the ride it is different and special.” — Patricia McDonald

“Get the Ventra App so that you can track times, see what stops are ahead of you, and see what alternate busses/routes are available, if the bus you chose just disappears.” — Cheryl Franciszkiewicz

“Relax and view spectacular sites, architecture and stunning skies — people watch, enjoy!” — Georgianne Myra Gooday

Thanks for reading the Chicago Sun-Times Afternoon Edition.Got a story you think we missed? Email us here.

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