Written by Christine Bruce, Feast ON Community Connector
The 2014 Eastern Ontario Local Food Conference (EOLFC) is an annual, regional conference. This year, it was held on November 24-25 at the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel in Kingston.
Its theme was ?Local Food: Niche to Mainstream?. One of the event�s partners was the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance, or OCTA, so it was important that I attend. As the Feast ON Community Connector for the Napanee – Kingston – Gananoque region, I need to be, well, connected!
More then just a conference, the event also included farm tours and dine arounds to bring people closer to the food of the region.
The food tour was fun to follow on Twitter. Mentions of Patchwork Gardens, owned by Ian Stutt in Battersea, were accompanied by photos of his indoor facilities and his sign. This local partner�s fare often finds its way to Feast ON-certified restaurant plates, and therefore into my tummy, meaning that Ian and I are already happily connected.
At the after-tour reception, sponsored by the Cities of Belleville and Quinte West, many other producers were on hand, including Shiva?s Delights, Hall?s Apple Market and Seed to Sausage. I was weighing my socially awkward options�beg a second mini buffalo slider or lick the remnants of my first slider off the napkin�when Martin Littkemann and Lori Smith said hello. Martin is the man behind Ontario Water Buffalo, the main ingredient of those remarkably flavourful sliders.
?Are you on Twitter?? I asked, since social media is a huge part of being connected in the #localfood realm.
?No,? Martin apologized, not being social media-savvy. His face then brightened as he pointed to his niece in the crowd. ?She would know!?
Martin and Lori are @OntWaterBuffalo. It soon became clear that most of these farmers and distributors are like Martin, whose Twitter and Facebook accounts are kindly managed by dedicated fans and family members, allowing them to focus on tending their animals and producing the best possible products.
Ten minutes later, Martin and I were heads-down over his cell phone, which stores hundreds of images and videos of his water buffalo. Like a proud daddy, Martin shared stories of new-born water buffalo and their parents, playful and engaging and sweet-tempered.
Among my other discoveries that evening were Julia Graham (@thequirkycarrot) and Three Dog Winery (@threedogwine). Over a deliciously dry red cab, winemaker John Squair shared stories of building his Three Dog Winery�s new facilities, where his wine casks now reside.
At 7:30, Trevor Benson and I headed for Chien Noir Bistro — one of the four Feast ON restaurants including Dianne�s, Olivea and Chez Piggy offering a local food prix fixe menu for the event.
As one, our entire table ordered the #FeastON prix fixe, which included an enormous Winter Salad topped with Chef Derek�s famous crispy pig�s #earsToDieFor. I resisted the urge to offer to finish my neighbour�s salad for her.
The main course arrived to gasps. To celebrate @Ocean_Wise month, the plate featured Bay of Quinte pickerel on a bed of #localVeggies from Patchwork Gardens. This kitchen demonstrates a clear walk/talk harmony. Trevor tweeted ?Just completed an epic #FeastON meal @ChienNoirBistro featuring @ocean_wise pickerel and amazing local fare #EOLFC2014?
The next day, Steve Beauchesne — of Beau�s All Natural Brewing Company, @beausallnatural — was the keynote speaker. ?Creating Space in a Crowded Market or How to Relax and Enjoy the Chaos? included several anecdotes that demonstrated family resilience during their whirlwind expansion.
At two plenary sessions, Jessica and Kelly gave us another chance at ?Getting to Know your Local Food Consumer? in a break-out session, while Kelly and Hayley talked about ?Local Sourcing Strategies That Work?. To my delight, Franco and Megan, dinner companions from the previous evening, gave a ?Local Food Hub Update?.
Whenever I see the hashtag #localFood, I�m reminded that our best chance at success is rooted in building community.
I am a proud @OCTA_licious Community Connector, and I want to connect more #healthyEaters with #localRestaurants with the #localFarmers who supply our food. #EOLFC2014: it�s all about #local.