With the wealth of regional food businesses in our area, it’s fitting that we have a festival that celebrates the best of them—and by best, we mean those that are not only making a creative, unique brand, but also striving to utilize ingredients grown locally. The Feast! Local Foods Marketplace is gearing up for its third year at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, and people are starting to recognize what a wonderful event we have in Feast!
The Feast! festival brings together over 100 food businesses from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa, reaching a radius of almost 300 miles. Over 1,200 visitors attend the festival to sample products, purchase the ones they love, and expand their food knowledge through workshops and chef demonstrations.
The variety of food showcased is impressive, because these folks are innovators. There will certainly be delicious salsa, pickles, and jams, all made with local ingredients and impeccable care, and includes many gluten-free items.
The event doesn’t stop at food—regional winemakers, craft brewers, and artisans with hard cider and distilled spirits come ready to offer samples, tell you about their wares, and let you know where their goods can be purchased.
These are hard-working entrepreneurs, some of whom are vertically integrated and take their ingredients from their own farm to the marketplace. Virtually all of the businesses who are accepted to exhibit at Feast! have done tremendous amounts of work not only perfecting their recipe, but also weaving their way through countless regulations to ensure they have food safety covered, they have packaging that is both eye-catching and accurate, and have distribution arranged so customers can find them in stores.
It’s this last detail—getting in stores—that presents the biggest challenge. The Feast! Local Food Network, made up of regional businesses and service organizations, is a partnership committed to growing a sustainable, local and regional food system that encourages innovation. You’ve likely heard of some of these partners, but maybe not all. “Boots on the ground” are provided by Renewing the Countryside and the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), but other important major players include Mayo Clinic, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the McKnight Foundation, and People’s Food Co-op.
The Feast! Network created the Feast! Local Foods Marketplace to help our homegrown businesses to expand their markets and grow, and also so that the community of consumers and retailers could realize the potential of our regional food system.
Through the Feast! Local Foods Marketplace, the Network works to link entrepreneurs to information and business expertise, boost food entrepreneurs’ access to financial support, and increase and strengthen regional connections.
For this work, the Feast! Network was honored with the 2016 Environmental Initiative Award for Food Stewardship. Environmental Initiative is a long-standing organization based in Minnesota dedicated to supporting innovation and environmental results through the power of partnership. And partnership certainly is needed to transform our food system.
And that’s why the Feast! Network started the Feast! Local Foods Marketplace: it’s all about relationships. Consumers meet food entrepreneurs and hear about the story behind their products, hear their passion, understand the work that goes in, and ultimately understand the power of their own pocketbook in this drama. With events like Feast!, consumers begin to appreciate that turning around this giant flagship of a food system begins with the very personal decisions they make about what they choose to buy and eat.
Article by Elena Byrne of Renewing the Country Side and Brad Smith of the People’s Food Co-op