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farm field about to be harvested by tractor with inset photos of diverse farm workers

Good Food Connections Virtual Meet-Up is Back

I think we would all agree that food is vitally important. More of us are starting to notice that the quality and origin of that food is just as important. Consumers are asking for locally grown, organic, farm-raised and more. The trend for locally sourced food is encouraging yet food producers and sellers are challenged with finding a steady supply of local foods. Another challenge in the food supply chain is finding takers for that local, fresh produce before it goes to waste.  Food is perishable inventory. It can’t sit on shelves like a television or piece of clothing until a buyer wants it.  Florida Extension faculty recognized these challenges and created the Good Food Connections virtual meet-up.

Benefits for the Supply Side

Suzanne Stapleton, left, a University of Florida marketing expert, samples cake, Friday 2/9, topped with a nasturtium leaf as Bert Gill, executive chef at a Gainesville restaurant, holds a salad garnished with flowers. Stapleton, an extension agent with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, is working with Gill and other restaurant chefs to encourage use of locally grown edible flowers in recipes. Stapleton said many flowers — including Valentine’s Day roses — are edible, but only those grown without pesticides should be eaten.

The objective of Good Food Connections (GFC) is to bring together local growers with local food entrepreneurs and food pantries to help them connect their supply with demand.  This endeavor started in 2020 as a means of alleviating some of the pressure on the local food supply chain. We targeted growers on the Treasure Coast of Florida (St. Lucie, Martin, Okeechobee and Indian River counties) but had participation from all over Florida and even outside the state.

We heard growers were growing but needed buyers. Pressure from labor and supply shortages altered some of their normal distribution routes.  We also wanted to help growers of new commodities find a market. Last season, GFC participants growers were able to connect with a local food pantry. One supplied ‘ugly’ fruit their distributor did not want and the pantry juiced it. Another had excess produce and formed a new connection with a regional food pantry, providing them with fresh vegetables.

Benefits for the Demand Side

Another objective for the Good Food Connections meet-up is to help local food producers connect with locally grown fruits and vegetables. More chefs are hearing the consumer demand for local and want to meet that demand.  The challenge there is finding the local supplier but GFC serves that purpose. Growers come into the room to talk about what they are ready to harvest. Chefs can get inspired to offer a new dish based on product availability. One local producer who makes bottled gazpachos was able to offer a limited-run special variety with local inputs he found out about at GFC. Getting a great deal on special ingredients his customers will pay more for helps his bottom line. When that business succeeds, it contributes to the success of the local economy.

Benefits for Consumers

They say a rising tide raises all boats and in the local economy we can see examples of this.  When our local farmers and growers do well, they have funds to expand production. That means we consumers have more food choices.  Those growers may also have more personal income to maintain or improve their homes and lives. They spend money ‘in town’ that supports other local businesses.

Alternately, when those restaurants use local produce in our favorite dish, we consumers benefit.  Some consumers feel that fresher products sourced locally can have more nutrient content than goods transported from far away. When we go to get those trendy local foods from local restaurants, we help stimulate the economy as well. Plus, we feel great for having our demand for ‘local’ met. Consumers love to know they are influential!

Join the Conversation

So the next question for you is: do you grow food, produce a food product or cook for others?  If the answer is yes – join us for Good Food Connections!  Starting Tuesday, October 19 from 4pm – 6pm on Zoom.  You don’t have to stay the whole time – we know people are busy.  We designed the format for some informal networking at the beginning and end of the session. There are breakout rooms for people to pop into to have private conversations if necessary. We always throw in a little education – regulations, food trends, resources available – because we are, of course, Extension educators. We always make it relevant to you. Best of all, participation is free.

Your hosts for Good Food Connections are, like your desired food, mostly local.  Yvette Goodiel is the Commercial Horticulture and Sustainability Agent for UF/IFAS Extension in Martin County. Carlita Fiestes-Nunez represents the UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program from Broward County. And Jennifer Taylor is joining us this year – she is a Small Farms expert from Florida A&M University’s Extension program. She also happens to be honored as the “2019 Woman of the Year in Agriculture”.  I will be there as well, but mostly for comic relief.

Keep in mind, if your favorite restaurant isn’t promoting local, share this blog with the chef and we will help them kick it up a notch.

Register for Good Food Connections virtual meet-up on Eventbrite at this link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/good-food-connections-2021-2022-tickets-184899869487