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Annual Feast! Local Foods Marketplace celebrates local foods and new opportunities

The ninth annual Feast! Local Foods Marketplace on Nov. 5 featured growers and makers from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

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Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen talks with Jan Joannides, executive director and co-founder of Renewing the Countryside, at the FEAST! Local Foods Marketplace on Nov. 5, 2022 in Rochester, Minnesota.
Noah Fish / Agweek
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ROCHESTER, Minn. — Fans of locally-sourced products swarmed southeast Minnesota to take part in the region’s largest local foods festival. 

The ninth annual Feast! Local Foods Marketplace took place on Nov. 5 and featured growers and makers from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester.

Brett Olson, co-founder and creative director of Renewing the Countryside, said what makes the event different from other food markets is a requirement for vendors to source ingredients from local farms. 

“So it looks like a food show, but it's actually an ag show,” he said. 

What is Feast?

According to its website, Feast! Local Foods Network launched in 2014 as a “partnership of many organizations, businesses and individuals committed to growing a sustainable, local and regional food system which encourages innovation.” Numerous organizations are involved in supporting the network, with the two presenting partners along with Renewing the Countryside being Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. 

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“They've been really instrumental since day one, in providing some guidance and boots on the ground in different parts of the state,” said Olson of the support from SMIF and MDA.  

The goal of the network, which includes an annual trade show and market, is to build up current food businesses and help new ones get established. 

Wholesale readiness

The trade show took place earlier this year in Cannon Falls and was focused on introducing wholesale buyers to the food businesses near them. Registration was limited to vendors, buyers and a small number of aspiring entrepreneurs. The list of registered buyers in attendance included Costco Wholesale in Rochester, People's Food Co-op in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and Co-op Partners Warehouse in Minneapolis. 

Olson said that farmers markets are a great source of income for smaller family farms, but the real profitability comes in the wholesale market.

“Wholesale doesn't mean you take half the price so that retail can mark it up,” said Olson. “A lot of times, it's very similar to the price you get at a farmers market, but you're selling in pallet loads or totes, so you can move a lot more for fewer hours.”

Renewing the Countryside is currently working with the University of Minnesota on a program called Wholesale Readiness, said Olson, in which 50 to 100 vegetable farmers across the state will participate.

“It’ll be about a half-year-long process of really digging deep into their wholesale business, and what they need to know to be profitable and move that ball forward,” he said.

More markets the better

The market portion of Feast serves as more of a celebration, said Olson, and a way for vendors to tell their story and for consumers to enjoy them all under the same roof. VIP admission for the event included alcohol sampling, and throughout the day were cooking demos by presenters such as Shari Mukherjee, who was on MasterChef Season 10, and Annie Balow, head chef and owner of ThaiPop in Rochester.

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The ninth annual FEAST! Local Foods Marketplace took place on Nov. 5, 2022, and featured growers and makers from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, Minnesota.
Noah Fish / Agweek

At the Nov. 5 celebration was Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen, who first stopped by the booth of Minnesota Grown, a promotional program of the MDA for products grown in the state. The program licenses the use of the Minnesota Grown label to over 1,000 Minnesota producers and retailers. 

Petersen said he’s toured around 25 farmers markets this year, most with similar strong turnouts like the Feast one in Rochester.

“During the pandemic our food system really changed,” said Petersen. “And now it has more opportunity as people look for more things like local markets.”

Looking through a line of vendors at the Nov. 5 market, Petersen said he recognized a few that have grown in popularity over the pandemic. 

“All these different companies and startups is what I’m really excited to see,” said Petersen. 

One booth Petersen stopped at was Lovejoy’s Bloody Mary Mix, launched by St. Paul entrepreneur Charles Lovejoy in 2018. Lovejoy built up a career in the restaurant industry, working as a bar manager and bartender for over 20 years of it, which is where he found his love for making cocktails. He sources local ingredients from farms near the Twin Cities, and sells at markets along with to wholesale to stores and restaurants.

Lovejoy said initial barriers like startup costs and licensing almost prevented him from pursuing the venture, but since then he’s only seen growth in his product line in over 30 restaurants and just as many stores.

Olson was proud to see some of the connections made possible through the Feast network, one of which was between Hoch Orchards in La Crescent, Minnesota — which he called one of the largest organic orchards in the state — and Vikre Distillery, makers of handmade spirits in Duluth that use ingredients from the Lake Superior watershed. The two teamed up to make a batch cocktail for the show. 

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“We’ve got that all the way from the St. Lawrence, way down to the Mississippi connection, in one cocktail glass,” said Olson. “So that's kind of fun.”

There have been more farmers markets popping up since the pandemic, including two new ones in Rochester (Village Farmers Market and the Night Market) but Olson said there’s no reason to be concerned about areas of dilution. 

“We don't have an over-saturation problem in the Rochester market,” he said. “I think the Village market is really serving a new population and is a huge asset, and a great welcome to the market mix. And who didn’t love the Night Market? It's such a brilliant experience.”

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He's also the host of the Agweek Podcast. He covers a wide range of farmers and agribusinesses throughout Minnesota and surrounding states. He can be reached at nfish@agweek.com

He reports out of Rochester, MN, where he lives with his wife, Kara, and their polite cat, Zena. He grew up in La Crosse, WI, and enjoys the talent from his home state like the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers and Grammy award-winning musicians Justin Vernon and Al Jarreau.
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