Sixth Annual Farmer+Chef Connection Closes With Leveraging Localism, Next Steps
Last year marked a milestone for the Farmer + Chef Connection. Celebrating five years, attendees were asked post-event: where would you like to see Farmer + Chef Connection next year? Overwhelming feedback from Arizona's small and medium-scale food producers revealed a desire to establish more relationships with wholesale food purchasers in southern Arizona. As the Healthy Local Foods Initiative team here at Local First Arizona began to plan the event, we set our sights on Tucson.
Having always been held in the Phoenix area, the Farmer + Chef Connection has consistently had a goal of bringing together local food producers prepared to transact at a wholesale level and introduce them to wholesale food buyers at restaurants, hotels, etc. from across the state. By building these relationships, we hope to keep more money circulating in the local economy, support Arizona's local food system, and bring more local foods to our tables.
During the event’s sixth year, held this past week on September 16th at the Tucson Convention Center, the unification theme was expanded upon to include the economic, social, and environmental benefits that can result from building relationships based on collaboration.
Keynote speakers Megan Kimble of Edible Baja Arizona and author of Unprocessed and Derrick Widmark of Diablo Burger each represented examples of this theme, as each of their affiliations rest on foundations of local collaboration and purchasing. During the main event --The Supplier’s Marketplace-- food producers were encouraged to brilliantly display and sample their goods to wholesale food buyers, creating a space that encourages a handshake economy. Attendees, which also included members of the public interested in the development of a better food system, were invited to attend workshops that provided participants everything from the tools they need for business management (Leveraging Your Localism and Maximizing Your Connections, How To: Farm to Institution) to environmental issues (Water Conservation and Food Waste: Reduce, Reuse, Renew) to the encore session on What Buyers Want and What Producers Need featuring instrumental players in Arizona such as Marco Bianco of The Bianco Group, Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Group, Emma Zimmerman of Hayden Flour Mills, Todd Bostock of Dos Cabezas Wine Works, author Gary Paul Nabhan and more.
In conjunction with the theme of leveraging your localism, attendees were encouraged to think about next steps. What might our state’s food system look like if production was based on local procurement? At six years in, The Farmer + Chef Connection has grown from being a small event of its own, to one that reached over 400 attendees of all kinds this year. Just over 50% of that number was represented by buyers looking to set up direct wholesale purchase accounts with Arizona’s food producers. More amazing yet, this year’s buyers depicted a wide array of those looking to procure closer to home, ranging from locally-owned restaurants like Mama’s Hawaiian Bar-B-Cue to large-scale purchasers such as Costco, Fry’s and Panda Express.
Looking toward year seven, all attendees were given Top 10 Next Steps: suggestions for how to leverage their localism and connect with both buyers and their fellow producers in multiple ways. One of those action items was to utilize the newly re-launched Good Food Finder AZ, which was demoed at this year’s event. Essentially a 365, 24-7 “farmer-chef connection”, the website provides a statewide, online space for anyone looking to be connected with ways to find and source food in Arizona, from local farms to community gardens to schools and more.
With ten vegetable growers, six wineries, five ranchers/butchers, five dairies, four distributors, two breweries, and our first ever distillery and aquaponics group in attendance just in the group of the remaining 200 at Farmer + Chef Connection this year, the possibilities for opportunities in the area of collaboration and growth are endless.
The 6th Annual Farmer + Chef Connection was sponsored by National Processing Solutions Payments in Kind Program, Bar and Restaurant Insurance, Merit Foods, and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Services program. Planning for the 2016 Farmer + Chef Connection, as well as it’s sister event Food and Farm Finance Forum, is currently underway; those hoping to attend or sponsor either can be kept updated on announcements by signing up for the Locavore newsletter, or by following Good Food Finder on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.