It’s all about growth for southern Utah’s local food movement.
As the demand for locally produced food continues to grow, farmers and restaurants are seeing an increase in market opportunities, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Meanwhile, Americans are interested in learning more about where their food comes from.
Exemplifying this trend on a regional level, Jeremy Lynch, the Utah State University Extension sustainability intern, is encouraging food producers, chefs and members of the community to attend this week’s inaugural local food conference.
On Tuesday, April 8 at 9 a.m., USU Extension Sustainability will join Utah Farm-Chef-Fork and Slow Food Utah in launching Local Food, Local Source: A Direct Marketing and Organic Farming Conference.
This two-day event will take place at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center, serving primarily as a networking hub for local chefs and producers while providing educational tools to help expand the infrastructure of local food systems.
Lynch, who is orchestrating the conference, said he hopes to involve not only conventional producers and chefs, but as many community members as possible.
“It would be a boon for our community to reflect on the ways we present and represent this aspect of our food culture to the tourist population passing through, as well as to our own families,” Lynch said.
Also spearheading the event is Roslynn Brain, USU assistant professor of Sustainable Communities.
In 2012, Brain developed and launched Extension Sustainability as a platform for individuals to engage in pro-environmental behaviors. She has also focused extensively on the challenges and opportunities involved in producer-chef relationships, and she plans to discuss direct marketing strategies for forming and maintaining such rapports at the upcoming food conference.
The program, which will recommence on Wednesday, April 9 at noon, is part of a continued effort to strengthen community relationships, stimulate local economies, and reduce food miles—or the physical distance between food production and consumption.
Last year, Utah Farm-Chef-Fork hosted similar workshops and mingles for producers and chefs in areas along the Wasatch Front.
“The response was positive, seeing participation from over 70 specialty crop producers and chefs,” Lynch said.
This year’s event will feature a panel discussion with community members from Moab and the surrounding areas, lectures on USU’s agricultural research programs, and a visit to Castle Valley Farms.
Presenters will include Ryan Murray of the Southeast USU Small Business Development Center, Beth LaShell of the Fort Lewis College Department of Agriculture, and soil conservationist Amber Johnson of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Dan Hobbs will speak on establishing food hubs in the west, utilizing his extensive experience with the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Cooperative and Economic Development Center.
“It’s a very exciting time for the local food movement,” Hobbs said.
He mentioned that despite the movement’s grassroots feel, it has recently spawned a number of available resources on a federal level, including its recognition by the USDA.
Hobbs plans to discuss the developmental stages of food hubs throughout the Four Corners Region, from exploring and studying to emerging and building.
“I’m looking forward to meeting everyone involved in the conference and sharing a little bit of what we’ve been working on,” Hobbs said.
Lynch is also looking forward to the event, and he has noticed the interest of these upcoming presentations from many corners of the community as well.
“The market is an interesting entity in Moab,” Lynch said. “It is a wonderful thing to have this space where we can interact, and in doing so, celebrate our grower community.”
Lynch said he believes a larger dialogue will emerge from the event’s discussions. “After all, we all eat and we all live here together,” he said.
Registration for the Moab conference is $15 per day, which includes one lunch provided by Moonflower Community Cooperative.
“I encourage folks to register sooner than later,” Lynch said. “We have this amazing opportunity to intersect our local food and artist culture and share this with those who pass through.”
USU Extension to conduct organic-farming conference
“It would be a boon for our community to reflect on the ways we present and represent this aspect of our food culture to the tourist population passing through, as well as to our own families.”
When: Tuesday, April 8 at 9 a.m. & Wednesday, April 9 at 9 a.m.
Where: Moab Arts & Recreation Center, 111 E. 100 North
Cost: $15/day, or $20 for both days
*Register at http://extension.usu.edu/sustainability/htm/programs/utah-farm-chef-fork/
*For questions, contact Jeremy Lynch firstname.lastname@example.org