Have you ever wanted to try organic pizza dough and gluten-free flatbread that will leave you with a clean conscience as well as a clean plate? What about locally crafted soda made from pure fruit juice and Wisconsin honey? Or perhaps the savory flavors of award-winning barbecue sauces, free-range turkey and spreadable chevre cheeses? 

You can see, sip and stock up on all of these artisan-made products and over 100 more at the second annual “Feast! Local Foods Marketplace” on Friday and Saturday, December 4 and 5 at Mayo Civic Center.

CALLING ALL FOODIES

The two-day event, known as “Feast!,” is a festival of food, featuring a unique combination of public marketplace and private tradeshow. On Friday, December 4, exhibitors and buyers in the food industry will gather for a peer-to-peer networking forum in the morning, followed by an exclusive tradeshow in the afternoon. 

On Saturday, December 5 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mayo Civic Center transforms into a family-oriented marketplace—the largest of its kind in our area. All ages can sample delicious products from farms and businesses in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, including everything from local meats and organic produce to buttery tarts and decadent, vegetable-infused chocolates to herb salts and homemade antipasto.

Exhibitors will offer unique recipes, holiday gift ideas and shopping opportunities. There will be mini-workshops, cooking demonstrations for adults and children, special kids’ activities, entertainment and even a wine, beer and spirits exhibit for attendees over age 21. 

“It’s a chance for the public to learn more about local products and to support those businesses while food makers can introduce their product to buyers and the public to help build relationships with potential customers,” says Brett Olson, creative director at Renewing the Countryside, one of the event organizers.

SHOWCASING SCRUMPTIOUSNESS 

“Feast!” debuted last year in Rochester with over 100 different artisan exhibitors. Cindy Hale, who runs Clover Valley Farms in Duluth with her husband, Jeff Hall, attended last year and will be returning this year with an array of products, including gourmet vinegars. 

“We had a lot of conversations at this show,” says Hale, “and we weren’t always sure if someone was a buyer, but they take samples back and eventually something can happen.” And it did. The connections Hale made at “Feast!” raised public awareness about her products and created new wholesale accounts.

According to event coordinators, this year’s event promises to be even bigger and more varied. “We will select 140 farmers and food makers to showcase their products at this year’s show; we anticipate over 2,000 visitors,” says Jan Joannides, executive director of Renewing the Countryside. “We hope to increase consumer awareness of the value of local foods and how to find and prepare them, especially for the holidays.”

REVITALIZING COMMUNITIES

The idea for “Feast!” began when two organizations—Renewing the Countryside, a 13-year-old nonprofit in Minneapolis that advocates for a just, sustainable and vibrant countryside and Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation of Owatonna, a 28-year-old nonprofit which seeks to revitalize rural economies—realized the potential such an event could have for connecting local growers and producers with consumers. 

“‘Feast!’ was created by the ‘Feast!’ Local Food Network—a partnership of organizations, businesses and individuals committed to growing a sustainable, local and regional food system which encourages innovation,” says Joannides. “We’ve also had the support of dozens of businesses and nonprofits in the region, including sponsors like the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Mayo Clinic and the McKnight Foundation.”

Tickets for the Saturday festival can be purchased online or at the door: adults $5, kids $2, children 10 and under are free, beer and wine tasting is an additional $20. For more details and a complete list of exhibitors, visit local-feast.org.

Marlene Petersen is a Rochester-based writer who can’t wait to try the mouthwatering pastries from Sara’s Tipsy Pies at “Feast!”

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