In early June of this year, over 300 Arizona-based food producers and food buyers from around the state braved Phoenix's hundred degree weather for a state-wide wholesale food networking event at the Desert Botanical Garden. The fourth Arizona Farmer+Chef Connection, hosted by Edible Phoenix, Good Food Finder, Local First Arizona, Desert Botanical Garden and Slow Food Phoenix was the region's latest partnership working to strengthen Arizona’s local food economy, and was met with success on a number of levels, but most of all in the way of connection. "Yesterday’s conference was filled with inspiration, enthusiasm and lots of astute information," stated Heather Gill on her blog Modern Forager. "We met, discussed, shared, fostered, strengthened and built relationships with so many of our like-minded colleagues that are involved in our local food movement and local business community."
Kimber Lanning, Executive Director of Local First Arizona, welcomed the crowd that hailed from nearly twenty communities from across the state. “We believe it's critically important to the future of our state to connect our growers and purveyors to our chefs and grocers; this economy is ours and fostering these connections will ensure our economic sustainability for years to come."
During the welcome session, guests were given a sneak preview of an Arizona-based food documentary on the resurgence of heritage grains, "Rise of the Grains," being filmed by director JD McLelland. Richard McCarthy, the executive Director of Slow Food USA, closed the introductory remarks with his talk title "Slow the Fork Down," citing the need for fair, clean, good food that has a positive influence on our ecosystems.
While the Arizona Farmer+Chef Connection promoted collaboration and direct market opportunities for Arizona’s farmers, ranchers and food buyers, the event also served as an educational conference and as a connector for Arizona's food advocates. Attendees were able to attend standing-room-only breakout sessions on topics such as:
- Crowdfunding, Credibles and Barter: Alternatives Ways of Funding Your Business
- Farm to Table Distribution: Restaurant CSA's and other potential innovations for small scale food distribution
- 5-minute Marketing Slams for Food Buyers and Suppliers
- Preparing for Food Safety Regulations
- Localizing Wholesale: Best and Bettering Practices for Purchasers and Producers
Panelists included members from local companies such as Upward Projects and Postino Winecafe, Avalon Gourmet, Duncan Family Farms, Salt Public Relations, Local Alternative Food Manufacturing and more. Michael McKenzie of Lucky Nickel Ranch in Eloy, Arizona, attended the Alternative funding session and said he will be "looking forward to employing the options discussed." Monica Gonzalez of Crooked Sky Farm remarked, "The marketing session taught me a great deal more than some other conferences I have attended. I loved it!"
The diverse turn out of food producers and food buyers included chefs, restaurants, grocery stores, school food buyers, caterers, Arizona based food producers, farmers and ranchers from across the state. Communities represented at the event were the Phoenix Metropolitan area, Tucson, Kingman, Rio Rico, Verde Valley, Prescott, Flagstaff, Tubac, Chino Valley, Snowflake, Casa Grande, Sauharita, Benson and the town of Maricopa. This was the first time the Arizona Farmer+Chef Connection had aimed to showcase growers from across the state, and the response was extremely positive. "Thanks to this conference, we were able to meet many bright, entrepreneurial minds like Toffler Niemuth of Belight Tea, who is sure to have a future in the AZ food movement! Thanks to the conference organizers and to the variety of attendees for sharing your ideas and products," said Shelly Vie of Nourished Foods from Scottsdale. Payton Curry of Brat Haus and Curryosity told coordinators that he was happy to reach and speak with so many different food brands who were looking for advice on how to take their businesses to the next level. "That was one hell of an inspirational day," he remarked as the event was ending.
Event coordinators are currently collecting survey information from the attendees to figure out how many business connections were actually made after the event. The group hopes that the networking and educational components fostered long-lasting relationships that will eventually turn into actual business contracts. All things considered, the feelings of community emanating from the posts on the event Facebook page and comments coming in from surveys are affirmative that these type of connecting events are much needed to connect food producers and food buyers of all types. "It's so great to meet everyone in one place," said Executive Chef Stephen Eldridge of Gertrude's at the Desert Botanical Garden. "We are so pleased to be part of an event as important as this and we would do it again in heartbeat."
For more coverage of the Arizona Farmer Chef+Connection at the Desert Botanical Garden, see AZCentral.com's coverage of the event here. For more photos of the event, see the Arizona Farmer+Chef Facebook Page here.