As the largest celebration of local foods in the tri-state area, Feast! is an event all its own. This two-day event takes place on December 2nd and 3rd in Rochester, MN at the Mayo Civic Center and within these two days, the significance of local food is implemented in unique, innovative, and inclusive ways. The first day is an industry-only Tradeshow and the second day is a Marketplace open to the public; both days are celebrating local food and inspiring transparency and quality in our local food system. We recently caught up with Eli Goodwell, a hardworking member of the Feast! team, and he shared with us the importance of the event. He explains that the two-day event was established to foster connections among farmers, food makers, consumers, and retail, institutional, and wholesale buyers in a three state region (MN, IA, WI). The event was created by the FEAST Local Food Network, a network that is a partnership of many organizations, businesses, and individuals committed to growing a sustainable, local and regional food system, which encourages innovation.
Eli shares, “The core of Feast! Network’s success roots in the extensive web of partners contributing to this collaborative project. Over 30 distinct organizations and over 60 individuals come together to plan and execute the event—not including all of the exhibitors, speakers, or day-of-event volunteers. This team provides wide expertise and on-the-ground contacts across many communities, which deeply enrich the project process and outcomes.”
From the inaugural Feast! that took place in November of 2014, this event has transformed into something really meaningful for local food and community involvement. This growing excitement and success can be traced back to a few key points. Eli begins, “We are very attentive to the needs of the exhibitors and the experience of festival-goers. Each year we implement an evaluation process that helps us garner feedback, that we then use to inform the next year’s planning.” He adds, “In 2016 we are experimenting with a new vendor layout, and adding a mini-farmers market with demonstration stations where the public can learn tips and techniques for working with seasonal produce.”
As the Feast! team conducts extensive surveys of the sponsors, exhibitors, wholesale buyers and attendees, their suggestions and feedback guide them as they grow and build momentum. The Local Feast Network has also begun efforts to support entrepreneurs between the festivals. The creation of a peer-mentoring group, which was led by the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, connects foodmakers at monthly meetings to collaborate and support one another. Eli shares, “The foodmakers love these opportunities to talk shop and we’ve seen some interesting product combinations and co-marketing efforts.”
Day One: The Tradeshow
Day one is an industry-only tradeshow. This day is exclusively for food growers, makers, and buyers. Eli offers, “Seriously committed makers and growers apply to attend Feast and are accepted based on their scale of production as well as their sourcing—we strive to ensure that these businesses are using local ingredients when possible because that supports our local farmers. A subset of the makers are also growing some or all of their ingredients, which is amazing because they have such a range of duties. We see this most often with family businesses where each person puts their focus on a different aspect of the operation.”
As a resource to these food industry people, there will be a Food Entrepreneurs Forum that will offer a range of workshops, access to technical assistance, and plenty of opportunities for networking. Growers and foodmakers will gain information on expanding sales, accessing new markets, and scaling up their operations. Additionally, buyers will get a chance to meet established, new, and up-and-coming food makers in advance of the 2017 season.
Eli adds, “We’re proud of the buyers that come to Feast because they work hard to bring in these small businesses and help them get products on the shelf. Some are even participating in a panel to help communicate best practices for working with buyers.”
Day Two: The Festival
Now, onto the second day of Feast!—a festival for all! General admission is just $5 and festival goers will have access to the food, beverages, and knowledge of farmers and foodmakers at over 100 exhibit booths. This gives the opportunity to discover new flavors made with local ingredients, while interacting with local farmers and foodmakers. There is also an option to upgrade your ticket to a VIP wristband to sample locally-crafted beer, wine and hard cider.
Eli begins, “The festival day is so fun, because you can see the passion on the faces of these 100+ entrepreneurs as they talk about their craft, share samples with people, and get feedback on their products. There are so many different types of food, from the ultra-healthy micro greens to the indulgent chocolates; the fermented raw sauerkraut to the many types of sauces; the fresh granola; gluten free snacks and baking mixes, dried fruits and fruit jams. It’s really a cornucopia, and you don’t leave hungry!”
And it doesn’t stop there. Eli adds, “Besides the food, there are activities for kids from crafts to veggie car racing, there are interactive cooking demos, and there’s a film fest featuring a winning set of short films designed to make you think about food in many ways. It’s all really a feast for the eyes, body, and soul.”
Mark Your Calendar!
Eli believes that growing food stewardship in Minnesota is not a one-size-fits all solution and needs to be both community-based and driven by all players in the process: farmers, wholesale buyers, institutions, consumers, agencies, and more. For him and the Feast! team, the ultimate goal is all about celebrating the bounty of our region. He expresses, “We’re all coming together in recognition of the importance of being connected through food, and enjoying that personal connection. In today’s complex world it’s nice to know that you’re getting a product with a little less of a carbon footprint, a clean food label, and a little more business transparency. The ultimate goal is a sensible food system that works for everyone.”
To learn more, check out www.local-feast.org/