Add Locally Grown Foods to Your Next Event
Serving locally raised or produced food at an event has many benefits.
By serving local you can:
- Educate attendees about alternative food choices
- Support local farmers and the local economy
- Enjoy the beauty and superior taste and freshness of local food
What to do first?
1. Clarify your goals: What do you hope to accomplish by serving local food? You can make your event special by connecting with local farmers and food producers, support the economy, and serve the most delicious food around! Consider other criteria: Maybe you prefer organic produce, grass-fed meat or Salmon-Safe wine. The Rogue Flavor Guide identifies many local growers and producers who can meet these needs.
2. What does local mean to you? The good news is that you can define local for yourself. When Thrive sponsors an event, source from producers in Jackson and Josephine Counties. If we can't find what we need there, we connect directly with a producer outside our community. During Eat Local Week when folks pledge to eat local at various levels of commitment, we encourage a 200 mile radius for sourcing local products. For your event try to make purchasing decisions that consider the most local alternative. Don't worry about everything being local though. There are some things such as coffee, tea, chocolate and rice that are not produced in Oregon. In those cases try to make your purchases from a locally owned business whose owners live in our community. Spending your dollars with them helps make the Rogue Valley more prosperous and keeps more money here at home, thus benefiting us all.
3. Create a budget: One important reason for sourcing locally is to support Rogue Valley businesses and keep more money circulating in the local economy. Farmers are often asked to donate products for events. But, before you ask for a donation, keep in mind that if we are to have local food available on a long term basis, we must be willing to support farmers by paying fair market value for the food they produce. Educate yourself about the true cost of cheap, imported food by reading the articles found on this website, then create a budget that meets the goal of serving local food and stays within your means.
4. Identify your partners: Before you decide on a location for your event make sure the facility you want to use is willing to buy and serve local food. Talk to the chef and offer support and resources. The Rogue Flavor Guide is a great place to start. Bring the guide with you when you meet with the chef or event planner for the first time and use its calendar of seasonality and farm contact information to start the conversation. Be aware that even if you source all the food yourself, serving local often requires extra work for the chef and facility. There may be extra invoices, more time in preparing the food and the stress of dealing with unfamiliar products.
5. Plan the Menu: After you have established a budget and found a willing chef, it is time to decide what to serve. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What local products are available? Remember in-season foods are typically less expensive. It is important to plan early, particularly if you are having an event in the winter or spring, but even is your event is in the summer or fall, starting early give you greater flexibility. Check out the calendar of seasonality for ideas about what is grown in the Rogue Valley and when.
- What can you buy ahead of time and store?
- What can the facility prepare from the processed and unprocessed foods farmers will deliver?
- How much additional labor and therefore cost will it take to work with local products?
- How will you handle any needed processing such as peeling and chopping?
- Consider consulting with a chef who is experienced in handling unprocessed food and who can offer menu planning advice and staff training. Thrive has a list of chefs who provide these consultation services.
6. Consider these other helpful Hints:
- Use the chef's regular menu as a starting point. This gives you an idea of what the staff is used to preparing and a place to start when negotiating price.
- Remember to include beverages in your planning. Serving locally produced wine, beer, juice, milk and cider can be an easy way to get more locally made products on the menu.
- Use the Rogue Flavor Guide and our searchable on-line guide to find local farms and food producers.
- Support other locally owned businesses. Buy locally raised flowers, rent table cloths from a local party supplier and hire a local janitorial service. How many local businesses can your event help support?
- Remember to tell diners where their food came from. Consider using a menu card with a list of locally sourced foods on each table. Include a list of farms in conference packets when appropriate.
- Highlight the fresh local food being served in pre-event publicity and registration materials. Let the press know about your efforts. Media outlets may jump at the chance to run a story highlighting your event's fabulous food.
- Be sure to thank the local farmers and food producers who work so hard to make and grow food for us all to enjoy.
- Thrive has planned and put on many events serving local food. We can offer troubleshooting or additional ideas for success. Call us at 541-897-0612.