Real Food Real Local Continues to Connect in Year 5
The Real Food Real Local Conference is an annual event put on by the Real Food Real Local Institute, which is a partnership between ACEnet and the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The event brings together innovators in local food economies, from entrepreneurs, funders and experts to nonprofits, advocates, and conscious consumers. This year, a wide variety of discussions occurred surrounding local food efforts, including distribution, marketing, policy, funding, and new models for operation.
Local food was plentiful throughout the conference, starting with the kickoff at the Eclipse Company Store. A delicious buffet of options donated from Avalanche Pizza, the Athens Farmers Market, Laurel Valley Creamery, Shagbark Seed & Mill, and Casa Nueva were available. Bakery items were purchased from Sweet Arts Bakery, a new business and partner of the venue. Meals were expertly catered by Kiser’s Barbeque, Chelsea’s Real Food, and Della Zona. Cocktail hour featured local libations from Jackie O’s Brewery and Dutch Creek Winery. Tours welcomed visits to Little Fish Brewing Company, Shagbark Seed & Mill, Devil’s Kettle Brewing, Chesterhill Produce Auction, and The Keller Market House. All waste was dealt with using Rural Action’s Zero Waste Program, encouraging waste diversion from the landfill through composting and recycling options.
The conference occurs in July to coincide with 30 Mile Meal Month and Ohio Brew Week. Restaurants offer specials of hyper local sources, brews and spirits from around Ohio are available at many different Athens Uptown locations, and the farmers market is thriving with peak season produce.
ACEnet’s Leslie Schaller facilitated the conference, introducing panels on food distribution, kitchen incubators, farmers markets, food tourism, 30 Mile Meal branding, and renewable energy. One track focused on a new and upcoming model for grocery and retail stores functioning like extended farmers markets, selling only locally grown and produced foods. Another track focused on shared-use facilities helping local food businesses grow by renting kitchen space, hosting cooking competitions, or providing technical assistance to new business owners. A food distribution panel served as a collaborative conversation to improve the distribution in the “Local Food Corridor Project” planning to connect Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Keynote speaker Sara Eckhouse spoke on behalf of the USDA, outlining the USDA’s approach to supporting local and regional food systems through new and existing opportunities for funding and investment. The second keynote speaker, Anthony Flaccavento, presented six economic transitions that help build a healthy economy from the bottom up and examples of various innovators working towards these transitions.
Community Food Initiatives hosted a multi-faceted Seed Saving Workshop on Tuesday afternoon to stimulate thinking and action around seed biodiversity in our region. Participants learned about sustainable seed saving methods. The workshop was followed by a seed exchange at Little Fish Brewing Co.
New this year, a Flash Talk Competition allowed contestants 7 minutes to pitch ideas that inspire action and collaboration within local food economies. The first place prize went to Mary Nally, the Executive Director of Community Food Initiatives, for her talk about CFI’s Ridge & Hollow Seed Company, advocating for regionally open-pollinated seeds as a more sustainable and diverse system for growth.
The wide array of topics presented brought many different attendees throughout the three days. Business owners, 30 Mile Meal brand supporters, policy advocates, government employees, farmers, non-profit staff and AmeriCorps members came together to celebrate the local food movement, to network, innovate and create economic opportunities for all. Building capacity within the local food movement is a way to build up our communities. Representatives from Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and communities around Ohio sharing models of best practices and challenges left attendees thinking about returning to their community and continuing to build economic solutions around the local food movement.
Healthy Food Access Promotion VISTA
Appalachian Center for Economic Networks