Opinion

Northwest businesses connect with local food at Farm-to-Table Trade Meeting

In just a couple short weeks, Sustainable Connections is excited to host the Northwest Washington Farm-to-Table Trade Meeting, the Northwest corner’s largest food and agriculture business conference and connections event, on Feb. 9. Bellingham and Whatcom County residents will likely see an upsurge of local products and ingredients at restaurants and retail stores as an outcome of this event.

With a variety of workshops, panels, networking opportunities, producer/buyer consultations, and an unforgettable local lunch, the Farm-to-Table Trade Meeting brings together 130-150 farmers, fishers, chefs, grocery buyers, food artisans, processors, distributors and more for a day of connections and education around new opportunities and business to business best practices for buying and selling local food.

Throughout the day there are valuable networking opportunities, resources and tools for buying and selling local food, including forward contracts, a local food cost calculator tool, the latest and how-to-use the Puget Sound Food Hub, industry updates and more.

Attendees can expect to come away with new contacts made, and a better understanding of what’s happening in Northwest Washington around local food.

Who should attend? Farms, fishers, foragers, food processors, grocers, buyers, restaurant owners, chefs, food artisans, distributors and all food based businesses wanting to do business in Whatcom, Skagit, Island and San Juan counties and beyond!

Though the Farm-to-Table Trade Meeting is the Food and Farming Program’s largest “connections” event of the year, Sustainable Connections also hosts chef farm tours, taking groups of chefs and food buyers out to local farms to meet farmers, taste their wares and see their operations first hand, as well as other farmer/chef networking events and workshops.

There is much momentum within the food and agriculture sectors in Northwest Washington. We are seeing shifts in the way we aggregate and deliver food, serve local food in schools, collaborate with groups such as the Whatcom Food Network. More and more tools are available on how to find and prepare local foods.

Sustainable Connections and the Food and Farming Program works to facilitate vibrant efforts within our food system, connecting important players, organizations, food buyers at restaurants and grocery stores with local farms, and providing our community with resources to all of the great places you can find local food year round.

We are also the home of the Eat Local First campaign, helping businesses to connect with local producers, and making it easy for you to find it wherever you eat or shop.

When restaurants or grocery stores participate in the Eat Local First campaign, they commit to tracking the percentage of their food budgets spent locally each year, and upping the ante by 10 percent each year, letting you all know that they have amazing local products they carry all the while. And what exactly is local? We define local as food grown or produced in Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan and Island counties.

Why eat local? Eating locally sourced food not only keeps our dollars here and supports local farm families; it gives our community more food security, keeps more land in farmland, and is fresher and more nutritious. It also allows for transparency — you can see where and how the food you consume is grown and raised.

Right now, only about 2 percent to 4 percent of what we consume in Whatcom County was also raised here. Our goal is to help move the dial to 10 percent by 2020. A shift to 10 percent of our food coming from local sources could mean a surge of $50 million back into our community.

There are lots of exciting developments happening within the local food scene in Whatcom County. Our work in the Food and Farming Program continues to grow, listening to the needs of farmers and food businesses and creating a forum to help expand our local food scene.

What can you do to help? Support local restaurants and do your shopping at businesses that serve or offer local products and ingredients. Visit the Bellingham Farmers Markets, one of the many county farmers markets, and/or sign up for a community supported agriculture share for yourself or your workplace. Get to know the local farms here by picking up your copy of the Whatcom Food and Farm Finder. And, contact us for a range of volunteer opportunities that help to move the dial forward with more local food for our community.

Bon appetit!

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