What began as a way to connect local farmers to consumers and buyers in 2006 has grown into a multifaceted local foods campaign through Feast Down East. For the past four years the organization has brought together anyone and everyone concerned about local farmers, buying local and natural foods during the annual Feast Down East Regional Conference.
This year’s conference is set for Friday, Feb. 6, on the campus of the University of North Carolina Wilmington and Feast Down East director Jane Steigerwald said the conference grows to reach new audiences every year.
“I think we have really connected the community with the local farmers in a tremendous way,” Steigerwald said. “I don’t think people knew where their food came from and how it was grown until we started marketing our farmers and educating the public on the importance of buying local food. This conference gives us a platform where we can bring our farmers to a place where they can learn but also our consumers and food buyers, so they can learn about the local food system and how they can support it.”
The conference will feature around 25 different workshops and mini workshops, ranging from topics like the business of farming and community gardens to aquaponics and drip irrigation.
Steigerwald said two new areas added for 2015 are a series focusing on bringing locally farmed produce and food into the school system, and a highlight on fishermen.
“[Fishermen] are a big part of the food system in southeastern North Carolina and a lot of times they do not get the support they need to grow their businesses,” she said. “They are coming up with more and more regulations for fishing and it has become very difficult to carve out a living that way.”
Steigerwald said the conference attracts a much broader audience than it did when it began five years ago. In addition to the farmers and foodies that have always attended, Steigerwald said now the list includes health department workers, city and county planners, and school system officials.
“People are realizing the importance of making your source of food a secure and healthy one so you don’t have to rely on other areas outside your region,” Steigerwald said. “There are so many different benefits, and it keeps money in our area, creating jobs and investing in the local community.”
For tickets and more information about Feast Down East’s Regional Conference, visit