By Kate Knight
Nearly 1,000 people turned out for Thursday’s Local Food Fair sponsored by Farmshed.
The farmers market-feel of the fair, held at SPASH, provided the opportunity for attendees to taste-test and shop local items from cranberry summer sausage and peanut butter flavored popcorn to organic coffee and preserves.
The food fair also included a baked potato bar, at which attendees could purchase deluxe toppings- such as homemade mozzarella- that were donated by area restaurants and caterers. Contributions made at the Local Food Fair were to support Farmshed.
“These donations help us keep the lights on,” said Taylor Christiansen, volunteer coordinator at Farmshed. “All donations and sponsorships support Farmshed’s community programming and events including this fair, the EBT booth at the Stevens Point and Wood County Farmers Market, the Farm to School program in conjunction with the YMCA, the Local Food Buying Club, the Growing Collective, our community workshop series and more.”
According to Christiansen, the fair started as an educational, panel-style discussion in 2007.
“A group of concerned community member volunteers, farmers and organizations wanted to host an educational event as an opportunity to talk to our community about local food system issues facing Stevens Point and the surrounding area,” Christiansen said. “It then evolved into a potato bar dinner over the years.”
Last year, the food fair attracted more than 700 attendees including its vendors and volunteers. This year, Christiansen estimates between 800 and 900 people will come through the doors by the end of the night.
“The fair provides an easy opportunity to meet and communicate with their local producers, as well as businesses and organizations that support a healthy local food economy,” Christiansen said. “February is a good time of year to gather and connect with other community members in the preparation for a new growing season.”
With a wide variety available at the Local Food Fair, community members attending had the opportunity to stock up on vegetables, meats, coffee and other storable items.
Free educational workshops were also held during the evening on several subjects including the Wisconsin Farmers Union, Farmshed’s Local Food Buying Club, Community Supported Agriculture and Ayurvedic (Ayurveda) medicine.
Children’s activities were also provided at the family-friendly fair, and attendees received a copy of the 2016 Central Wisconsin Farm Fresh Atlas upon entering.
“We strive to bring a wide range of farms, businesses and organizations together to participate in the info fair and marketplace,” Christiansen said. “This event is also a great opportunity for us to be able to work with area restaurants and encourage them to use local food.”
Christiansen added that the volunteers who help out each year make running the fair possible.
“This event has become very efficient with a great group of reliable volunteers who come back every year with new ideas to make everything run better,” she said. “We specifically look for volunteers to help us run our events and annual community programming, as well as help with the day-to-day operations in the office.”
This year’s fair also featured a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) panel led by Lynn Markham. Panelists included members and worker shares of CSA farms who shared their experiences with the CSA model of agriculture.
“This time of year is a great time to sign up to be a CSA member,” Christiansen said. “We have a high concentration of CSA farms in Central Wisconsin, so we want the local food community to know the options they have to get involved in one.”
Farmshed’s Local Food Fair becomes more popular each year, according to Christiansen.
“This is a fun social event in the midst of the cold winter that warms everyone’s hearts as they get to know their local food community a little better,” she said. “We also love witnessing the networking amongst our exhibitors, the new relationships built between farmer and consumer, and the budding drive and inspiration to source local food from those just learning about our local food system.”
To become a Farmshed member or to volunteer, visit www.farmshed.org. Farmshed can also be found on Facebook for more information.