5 Outcomes of the 2015 Arizona Food & Farm Finance Forum

AFAFFF Header 2015 v2This year’s Food & Farm Finance Forum was held in historic Clarkdale in the beautiful Verde Valley of northern Arizona. 132 farmers and producers, chefs and other local food buyers, economic development entities, local food system advocates, and students convened for two days on January 15th and 16th to change the way our desert state feeds itself. This year’s focus was on marketing and outreach, food aggregation and distribution, and access to capital and business development with an overall emphasis on building food hubs and collaboration. There was so much to cover, it was difficult to only choose 5 highlights! You can view all the presentations from the forum here.

60864571_41104fb59d_qThere are so many people across the state working to create a vibrant and healthy food system in Arizona! Some of the organizations and businesses represented at the forum included: Four Eight Wineworks, SLO Restaurant concepts, Local Alternative Inc., International Rescue Committee, Blue Sky Organic Farm, Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, Cottonwood Economic Development Council, Walking J Farm, Duncan Family Farms, Prescott Farmers Market, Edible Baja, Maya’s Farm, Good Food Finder, Desert Diamond Distillery, The Farm at South Mountain, Edible Phoenix, Hayden Flour Mills, and many more. According to our post event survey, 100% of forum attendees reported gaining valuable networking and coalition building opportunities! Photos of the event are now up on our Facebook page.

790427509_c9a217f10b_qArizona food producers and entrepreneurs connected with organizations that are specifically interested in funding sustainable food enterprises including Verde Valley Regional Economic Organization, USDA Risk Management, USDA Rural Development, USDA Farm Service Agency, USDA-NRCS, Alliance Bank, Arizona Department of Agriculture, Maricopa Center for Entrepreneurship, Valley of the Sun United Way, and Sustainable Economic Development Initiative.

We have much to learn from and share with our neighbors in New Mexico! Dr. Gary Paul Nabhan’s keynote was a comparison of the two food systems, there was much to take away from what we can learn from and grow with each other. We also had a New Mexico delegation present, representing: Delicious New Mexico, Prospera Partners, Farm to Table New Mexico, Agri-Cultura Network and La Cosecha CSA. These representatives of our neighboring New Mexico came to learn, share, and network with other Arizona food system advocates. This provided us the opportunity to learn from one another’s successes and failures through a comparative lens, enriching the experience of all in attendance.

Keynote Anthony Flaccavento of Rural SCALE Inc. identified an important opportunity to grow the local food movement by increasing the demand for locally produced food and engaging the ‘vaguely concerned and sporadically motivated consumer’. When we change the conversation around local food to one that shows the real cost is not included in most foods, we can begin to see the benefits of eating locally and sustainably. One of the major costs of cheap food being poor health. As demonstrated by Flaccavento, a household’s spending on healthcare and food are inversely related meaning better food is related to better health. Flaccavento points to many positive signs that our state has begun to prioritize good food, as seen in his slides.

18808413_642bd0550c_qFood investment opportunities are ripe in Arizona. In our final working session of the forum, Dr. Braden Kay of ASU’s School of Sustainability and the Orlando Office of Sustainability & Energy walked us through an engaging and hand-on process to identify our current local food assets and how we can work together to build a stronger food system in Arizona. Potential investments included food waste diversion, communal refrigeration facilities, food policy and advocacy, local aggregation and distribution networks, edible enterprises, and local marketing and brand identity to name a few. With so many folks across the state working on these different aspects of the food system (and often duplicating efforts), it was refreshing to have them sitting at the table together planning collaborative strategies to achieve these goals. You can view the investment posters here.