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Food event a boon for farmers, restaurants

Food connoisseurs will be heading to Riverside Meadows Park along the banks of the Conestogo River in St. Jacobs this Sunday afternoon to sample a variety of appetizers prepared by some of Waterloo Region’s finest chefs.

The eighth annual Taste Local! Taste Fresh! event will also showcase food grown in the area by pairing 20 chefs with 20 farmers, offering the public an opportunity to sample fresh local food and farm products.

GET CRACKIN' Chef Erin Helwig plans to make a cheese tartlet at the Taste Local! Taste Fresh! event, supplied by OK Eggs Farms located north of Elmira.

“The event showcases a large gamut of fresh products from produce to eggs and various meats,” said the event’s coordinator, Anna Contini of Foodlink Waterloo Region. “It’s all about featuring what we have in our own backyard and educating the public about it as well as making connections between farmers, chefs and consumers.”

Along with giving local farmers and chefs a platform to show off their products and skills, there are quite a few economic benefits for those involved. For the local food producer it’s a way of making more connections with restaurants while chefs become more visible in a community, said Contini.

“It allows members of the public to see what is available locally and the fact that they can purchase the food through farm gate and various other outlets in the area helps smaller local farms,” said Contini. “It’s a marketing opportunity for both the restaurant and the farmers.”

All participating farmers are featured in Foodlink’s Buy Local! Buy Fresh! map where buying local food directly from the farmer supports the region’s economy and farming community by allowing farmers to sell directly and reap the rewards without having to pay a number of middlemen.

For the chefs and restaurants participating in the event, being able to feature local foods on their menus have become a marketable feature and a selling point to customers who want to know where their food has come from.

“Participants are able to chat with the chefs and farmers during the event and can create a connection which may lead to that person seeking out more food from local farmers or restaurants,” said Contini.

Farmers are having difficulties in today’s economy but by putting a spotlight on local foods and educating the public about what is available in the Waterloo Region, it sets in the “consumers minds and opens their eyes to all the possible local foods,” she added.

Loel and Phyllis Penner from OK Egg Farms, located north of Elmira, are one of the 20 participating farms in the showcase this year. The farm has been paired with Erin Helwig, the executive chef at the Stone Crock and St. Jacobs Grill.

Having participated in the annual event before, the Penners are aware of the benefits the showcase may bring.

“The event exposes local farms to the public and helps farms gain new clients as restaurants in the area find and try out your product,” said Loel.

The egg farm has managed to gain clients from the showcase while also promoting its name to the general public.

“It’s a good event because we can interact with the public who are interested in the food and where it comes from as people are looking more and more for local produce,” said Loel. “While they interact with the farmers and learn how the farmers take care of their product, how fresh it is and the quality of the food impresses customers and they begin to use your product. It is very beneficial.”

For Helwig the event is geared for showing off what smaller farms may offer restaurants as a way of local food.

“For us the event is fun and promotional. It’s great to be paired with the local farms in the communities that are trying to get their products out there,” she said. “It’s nice for the small farms to get their names out there and be noticed, they are working their little hearts out to get their product out there and it’s nice for us to be able to showcase it.”

Helwig said restaurants do benefit from the event but those located in tourist areas, like her restaurant, have a rather difficult time pinpointing the exact number that return for more after the day’s affair.

“It’s exciting to see what is out there and the event helps one find some great farms with in your local realm. We all know the big farms and companies out there that supply restaurants with product but it is nice to actually have the local farmer come to you.”

Helwig finds using local farms products in her restaurants pleases her customers.

“It’s great for us to say on Saturday mornings that we are using 100 per cent pure maple syrup and it was just made down the road,” she said. “The customers definitely appreciate us using local farms as there are not a lot of restaurants that have bragging rights like that.”

Taste Local! Taste Fresh! is a fundraiser for Foodlink Waterloo Region, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising the profile of our local harvest.

Last year the event sold out drawing approximately 500 guests and organizers expect this year’s event to be sold out as well.

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