No one could ever accuse the good people behind Taste Real (that would be Christina Mann and her talented team members) of resting on their laurels. In addition to planning the ever-popular Spring and Fall Rural Romps, the Local Food Fest in June (last year’s Culinary Tourism Event of the Year!) and Farmalicious, Taste Real also co-hosts Source It Here – a B2B networking event that brings together stakeholders along the local food value chain – in partnership with Foodlink Waterloo Region.
We were on hand for the full day to present (twice!) to a packed room of attendees. We kicked off the morning by taking Taste Real’s partners through the recently completed Food Tourism Strategy prepared by OCTA for the County of Wellington. The Strategy highlights the food tourism assets that already exist in the region (whole animal butchery classes, amazing ice cream, tasting flights of craft beer and yes, plenty of goats) and looks at new opportunities to drive more visitors to explore the many wonders of Wellington. You’re going to be hearing much much more from Taste Real in the near future and we can’t wait.
Back to regularly scheduled programming. The 8th edition of Source It Here had a stacked line-up, including a keynote address from Dr. Sylvain Charlebois of the University of Guelph. Sylvain took attendees through the economic impact of buying locally (yes – cauliflower got a shout out) and urged everyone to seek out and celebrate the terroir of Wellington County. After that – lunch! A perennial highlight for the OCTA team and this one did not disappoint. There were plenty of delicious offerings using locally sourced ingredients. We fell particularly hard for the jambalaya, kicked up with sausage from Thatcher Farms.
We took the podium after lunch to present on the value of attracting food tourists and how to win them over. Hint – you’ll need a strong online presence. Additional hint – do not attempt to emulate Martha Stewart’s Twitter feed circa 2013-2014.
The last portion of the day had to be our favourite though. In a panel presentation moderated by local food champion Mark Kenny, four different pairs of entrepreneurs spoke to the unique nature of their partnerships and how creating them have helped grow their businesses. We particularly liked hearing how Ben Sasche from Elora Brewing Co. and Leslie Zinger from Top Market Meats are bring rabbit to the dining masses (bunny wings anyone?).
In the marketplace, vendors were set up throughout the main room of the Loyola House showcasing their services and sampling homegrown products all day long. We spied several of our favourite Wellington County producers on hand – including Jewels Under the Kilt and Wellington Brewery.
We know that today’s food tourist seeks out collaborations of all kinds. Think caramels made using lager from a nearby craft brewery. Lavender ice cream made with flowering plants sourced right down the road. An orchard that becomes the backdrop for a long-table dinner prepared by an area chef. A product or experience that brings in multiple partners is not only a richer story for the consumer, it’s also a way for the businesses involved to leverage each other’s audiences and overcome capacity issues. Which is why it was exciting for us to watch stakeholders make those connections throughout the day – in the marketplace, over lunch and during the sessions. Here’s hoping Source It Here continues be a space for community building around local food for years to come.