I didn’t personally witness anyone sticking their chocolate into anyone else’s peanut butter at the Feb. 8 Fresh Connections local food growers and buyers expo, but there were a lot of connections being made.
By that, I mean farmers stocked with fresh produce were on hand as well as packaged food producers. Add restaurant owners, chefs, advocacy organizations, progressive developers, discreet financiers and interested members of the public and, well, you couldn’t swing a leg of lamb without hitting two kinds of goat cheese and an activist.
The event was sponsored by the Farm to Restaurant project, a program of the Santa Fe Alliance.
Farm to Restaurant was initially something of a promotional tool for Santa Fe Alliance, which represents and promotes local businesses. Showing the mutual benefits of local farmers selling directly to local restaurants was an obvious strategy: We don’t have to have it explained to us as constituents—we can taste it.
In the morning, buyers, sellers and a few others mingled. Farmers and food producers had display tables to demonstrate the quality and diversity of their wares. Demonstrations of tastiness were also plentiful (I apologize for stealing the chile powder, seizing the chèvre and using my finger to stir a batch of red chile cheese dip, but it seemed like the thing to do at the time). Among these tables, chefs and restaurateurs wandered, found suppliers and considered different seasonal possibilities.
Also on display were the efforts of several nonprofits. The Commonweal Conservancy explained its Galisteo Basin Preserve project, just recently given preliminary approval by county commissioners and, curiously, re-dubbed “Trenza.” Earth Care International outlined several food-friendly programs, including a mobile tool shed for community gardens and a young farmer intern program. Bioneers unveiled its Dreaming New Mexico project that maps food sheds, resources and fair-trade factors in a comprehensive, visually powered report.
During a hot, generous lunch that guaranteed everyone in the room would remember that La Montañita Co-op is available for catering, a panel of local food and business experts talked about the future of local businesses that follow the “value chain” approach, a framework that helps streamline operations and logistics while building strong, sustainable, mutually beneficial networks between businesses. Keynote speaker Cecilia Ciepiela actually didn’t make it due to The Day After Tomorrow striking the East Coast, but the conversation enthused the room with the potential for new models and relationships.
Finally, in the afternoon, a couple of hours were dedicated to “curbside consulting.” Professionals were on hand to give casual advice regarding everything from legal and land-use issues to how to get your own hobby (or serious) farm up and running.
The Farm to Restaurant project has boomed in lockstep with the locavore movement. More restaurants are wanting more and more local produce all the time and more farms are scrambling to deliver it. The Alliance and the Farm to Restaurant Project received some funding this year from the USDA to help extend those relationships and continue to push Santa Fe and New Mexico to the forefront of progressive, developing local food economies in the country.
That’s no empty cheerleading.
It’s true that the amount of food produced and sold locally is still sadly small here. It’s true that New Mexico continues to have reckless levels of food insecurity among its populace. It’s true that big corporations continue to fight against local legislation that would empower a sea change in food production and distribution systems. But it’s also true that the scales continue to tip in favor of progress with every new connection made.
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