Farm to Table event promotes local, healthy eating
The country comes to the city in a big way March 21 and 22 for the eighth annual Farm to Table Pittsburgh Food Conference and Food Tasting at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
Representatives of more than 25 Western Pennsylvania farms — the most ever in the event's history — will be among the exhibitors, says organizer Erin Hart, director of Farm to Table Pittsburgh, the nutrition component of the American HealthCare Group's wellness program.
American Farmland Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based national conservation organization dedicated to protecting farmland and promoting sound farming practices, will be participating in the conference for the first time.
The two-day event — which includes cooking demonstrations, speakers, a networking breakfast and 65 exhibitors — gives consumers an opportunity to meet with local food producers, retailers, food organizations and wellness providers. And more than 50 farms, wineries, breweries, purveyors and restaurants are expected March 21 at a Local Harvest Tasting.
“The audience is growing every year as the concept of eating real food that is locally sourced is catching on,” Hart says. “People want to eat real foods that are sources of nutrients that keep their families healthy. They're shopping at farmers markets, farm stores and retailers who carry these products.”
Some 3,500 people attended last year's conference.
Joseph and Sara Bozzelli, who operate Five Elements Farm in Worthington, Armstrong County, are first-time exhibitors at this year's conference. They started their farm on 10 acres of corn field about six years ago. Now they provide a variety of organic produce from three acres currently in production. They sell eggs from pastured chickens and will begin harvesting shiitake mushrooms this year.
Joseph Bozzelli says the organic movement in urban areas has grown considerably compared to 15 years ago, when it was a struggle to find organic produce, even at farmers markets.
“It's great to see the access and availability we have now in the city,” he says. “Many interactions at the markets we have served involve educating people about our produce — how it is grown, why we do it that way or even what it is. We have gained some loyal customers, we think, purely through the taste, freshness and face-to-face interactions.”
Another conference participant, Nathan Holmes, is assistant manager of Clarion River Organics, a CSA (community-supported agriculture) based in Sligo, Clarion County. He says his list of regular customers who obtain organic produce throughout the growing season from the cooperative of 10 farms has grown to 500 subscribers, which include an increasing number of grocery stores and restaurants.
“We have drop-off locations all over the city of Pittsburgh, from coffee shops to the YMCA,” he says.
The keynote speaker at the conference will be Judy Wicks, a business consultant, author of “Good Morning, Beautiful Business: The Unexpected Journey of an Activist Entrepreneur and Local Economy Pioneer” and founder of the White Dog Café in Philadelphia.
She grew her business and became a leader of the local food movement in her region, buying sustainably grown produce from local farmers and fair trade products such as coffee and chocolate. The business decision of which she is most proud was in cooperating with her competitors, sharing information about her network of farm suppliers eight years before she sold the cafe in 2009.
There needs to be a spirit of cooperation among business owners in an effort to build a more sustainable economy, she says.
“We have to shift the mentality from competition to cooperation,” Wicks says. “It's the patriotic thing to do.”
Wicks has lived in Philadelphia since 1970 but is proud of her Pittsburgh roots. She grew up in West View and Ingomar and graduated from North Allegheny High School and Lake Erie College. She and her ex-husband, Richard Hayne, also a North Allegheny alum, co-founded the Free People's Store, known today as Urban Outfitters, of which he is CEO.
Among the honors Wicks has received for her work are the James Beard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year Award, the International Association of Culinary Professionals Humanitarian Award and the Women Chefs and Restaurateurs Lifetime Achievement Award.
She will speak at 11:30 a.m. March 21 at the conference.
Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.