An annual event for the past seven years, the Local Food Connection in Eugene, OR, has truly become a hub for creating connections. Hosting more than 250 attendees last year – including 70 buyers or distributors, 28 processors, and 71 regional producers – the conference has one overarching goal: Help people find new business opportunities.
“If you’re coming with a product to sell, we determine our success by helping you find a new place to sell it,” said Event Coordinator Jared Pruch. “For food buyers the goal of the conference is to let you know about opportunities to buy locally produced food.”
The theme of the 2013 conference is “Values Added: Celebrating the Values of Our Local Food System”, reflecting the stories and values that lie behind local food products, and the place-based and cultural significance of this unique food region. A new feature this year, conference organizers will be acting as connection brokers to ease the process of finding the right person to talk to in a room of 200.
“The most valuable aspect of this event is just having everyone in the same room for the day. Having that face-to-face time is really important,” said Pruch. “In the past we left it up to attendees to find each other. This year we’re incorporating brokers who have a roster of food buyers from restaurants, grocery stores or institutions ahead of time so that when people try to connect there will be someone there to help make an introduction.”
In addition to providing brokers for their networking sessions, the conference will host several new panels including breakout sessions about starting a food cart and building community food systems in rural areas. Along with new breakout sessions, the conference will be bringing Jacques Gibson to the podium for a keynote address covering his family’s success through Lochmead Dairy, which was one of seven dairies in operation in the Junction City, OR, in the 1950s and today is the only one left.
“He’s going to talk about some of the key decision they made that helped them grow their business from a small family business to regional food player,” Pruch said.
Attendees can also look forward to a locally sourced lunch, which, last year, left one university school buyer – who provided the conference with an anonymous testimonial – impressed with the variety of products available in what is typically thought of as the off season.
“I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the ingredients that were donated prepared in different manners,” they said. “I also thought that since we were not in peak season it was a great variety with what was available, and I wanted to taste everything.”
Registration for the conference is $30 and includes breakfast and a light lunch as well as the attendee’s choice of workshops.
More information about the 2013 Local Food Connection can be found online at localfoodconnection.org.