Food producers meet food buyers at Feast
Food choices got more diverse, and closer to home, Sunday.
At the Feast! Local Food Festival at Mayo Civic Center, 115 producers of honey, jams and jellies, grass-fed beef, shrub beverages, specialty salts and other foods met people interested in buying foods that not only are unusual but locally grown.
People could sample many of the products, talking for a minute or two with those selling and maybe, just maybe, finding a new supplier for something they want or a new product they didn't know they wanted. It was kind of like speed dating for food.
Jan Joannides, of Renewing the Countryside, one of the premier partners, said the move to locally grown foods is growing because people are more health conscious. If you know who makes your food, you'll appreciate it more and "there might be less obesity," she said.
"I think it's better for smaller communities if you have a dozen small to mid-sized farms," she said. That means more people buying things locally, more children in schools.
And it's more fun, she said. There are many unusual foods out there, such as pumpkin jam and specialty spices, she said.
"I think it's more interesting," she said. "I really like to hear stories behind food."
But for producers, it's not as easy as making a new kind of jelly. You have to find a market for it and have to be able to produce enough to make bigger buyers interested, she said. That's the second part of the festival — getting buyers and producers together.
Often, marketing and producing the food is the hard part. Then there's also the challenge of getting the proper licenses, she said. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture, which both licenses and promotes Minnesota foods, was at the festival to help.
Kim Olson, of Grandma's Kitchen of Albert Lea, was there to find customers. She said she was on the way up the corporate ladder with a restaurant chain when two back surgeries forced her out of that job. One day, she got some free grapes and decided to make jellies for Christmas presents. "That kind of got out of hand," she said.
Today, she and her husband, Dan Olson, and their daughter, Bethany Jensen, make a few dozen different kinds of jams and jellies as well as the mix for "shrub" which is a Colonial-era precursor to soda pop made with vinegar, sugar and fruit. She has sold at Thursdays on First in Rochester and they do catering and other work.
"It's so much more fun to be creative and do what you want to do," she said. If she wants to try ghost chili jelly, she can do that, she said. And she has.
"It's better for me to keep my brain working," she said. "I'm always thinking about that the next thing."
Of course, doing all the paperwork, getting the licenses, is hard, she said. But it's something she has to do. How well it works out isn't known, she just got going big this summer and she was eager to see what consumers think of her products, such as the festival.
"The market is exploding with more local companies," she said. "I just have to distinguish myself in some way, shape or form."
Seeking to find new places to buy locally grown foods was Kari Blom of Mantorville who was there with her twin girls Jordyn and Julia, 8.
"We want to know our food is good," she said. She would like to know who grows or produces that food. It's not always more expensive, she added.
She and her girls were not only looking for more places to get what they like but more places to find what they might like. Instead of just looking for what they know, they were looking for more new things, she said. They were "trying to open our eyes to different things that are here that we didn't know about," she said.