FEAST! trade show offers connections, lessons

Fifty-eight vendors and over 75 buyers took part in this year's FEAST! Local Foods Tradeshow.

Kat Duvic .jpg
Kat Duvic of Social Mixers Simple Syrups talks with a customer at the FEAST! Local Foods Tradeshow in Cannon Falls, Minn. on March 23, 2023.
Noah Fish / Agweek

CANNON FALLS, Minn. — Connections, lessons and local foods were dished out at the FEAST! Local Foods Tradeshow in Cannon Falls on March 23.

The FEAST! Local Foods Network is a partnership of many organizations geared towards strengthening the regional food system through innovation, with its biggest sponsors this past year being the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) and Renewing the Countryside (RTC).

When Elena Byrne, local foods specialist with RTC, joined the nonprofit in 2016, one of her focuses was to build up the FEAST! programming.

Held annually since 2014, the trade show used to be in tandem with the FEAST! Marketplace — which was held in Rochester last November. This was the second year the trade show was a standalone event, after Byrne said they discovered spring to be the best time for vendors and buyers to get together.

"We really work to get buyers to be able to come and we learned that March was a better time," she said.


The trade show doubled its size from 2022, Byrne said, with 58 vendors in attendance and over 75 buyers. Buyers not only represented grocery stores but institutional markets like schools and restaurants, she said.

"We really work to not only support the businesses in their growth, but specifically connect them to markets," Byrne said. "And also to serve buyers, because we think that they want to add value to their businesses by showing their community how they reflect, and are working to increase economic development in the region."

The trade show was also an opportunity for vendors — some of which are farmers — to network with each other, Byrne said.

"Vendors are still looking for sources, and we have some farmers here who are producing things that can be ingredients for other products," Byrne said. "There's a lot of cross pollination going on."

She was able to witness one particular occasion.

"I was present for one booth conversation where a ginger farmer was providing her information to someone who uses ginger in his formulation, and had previously been buying ginger from South America," said Byrne.

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.
Noah Fish / Agweek

Along with a buyers' expo for vendors to showcase their products, the spring show had breakout sessions led by industry insiders from the Food Finance Institute (FFI), which is part of the University of Wisconsin System’s Institute for Business, along with Agricultural Utilization Research Institute and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Marketing & Development Division.

Tami Enfield, founder and CEO of Brand Yourself Consulting , taught vendors ways to think differently about using social media, and what types of content will benefit their bottom lines. The Northfield-based company offers social media strategy for small businesses and brand strategy for bigger ones.


"I was teaching today on how to tell your story through social media," said Enfield, who gave ideas on how to engage with clients online while growing an audience.

Many customers are introduced to new businesses now via social media pages, Enfield said.

"Facebook and Instagram is as relevant as a website these days," she said. "Most people will go to a Facebook page or an Instagram account to find the website, so making sure that if they are on social, to be consistent, and at least have been posting to it, otherwise, people are gonna think you're out of business and you're not relevant."

Some business owners are still hesitant to jump into the sphere, she said.

"I think it's everyone's favorite thing to hate," said Enfield of social media, who stressed that consistency and storytelling are the only components required to succeed at it. "88% of consumers deem authenticity as one of the most important things before purchasing from a brand, so be authentic, and out there, in front of the camera."

The FEAST! events are a culmination of a year's worth of programming, said Byrne. The FEAST! Local Foods Magazine is used to spread information to general consumers who might not be aware of the local food systems available to them, and to help farmers consider the best approach for their business.

"Sometimes it might make more sense for a farm to sell institutionally, where they can sell in bulk amounts, and that might help their bottom line more than costing them labor hours sitting at a farmers market," said Byrne.

Wholesale buyers that make value-added products are encouraged to tell the story of who they're sourcing from, said Byrne.


"Because we want the consumer ultimately to learn to ask, and wonder how that food is being grown, and ending up as a value-added shelf stable product," she said.

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He covers a wide range of farmers and agribusinesses throughout Minnesota and surrounding states. He can be reached at

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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