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Third Annual Food Book Fair: NYC Food Event

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There were more than 20 events, 200 books, and 60 food thought-leaders highlighting this year’s three-day food writing, reading, and crusading event held at the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

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Ground zero for Brooklyn artisanal hipsterism, the Wythe is the ideal food and drink magnet, helping to attract food enthusiasts, publishers, book collectors, chefs, artists, activists, scholars and writers to explore food trends, innovations and networking.

The Fair hosted a weekend of panel discussions and author signings, a pop-up farm for kids, a homebrew brew pub, dinners, and a foodbook slam. The menu of world-class speakers included Ava Chin, Laurie David, Tom Mylan, Bryant Terry, and Steve Hindy and Scott Chaskey, Seedtime, and work-song musician Bennett Konesni of the Shelter Island Sylvester Manor Educational Farm -- two food leaders from this Examiner’s book, The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook. goo.gl/0Moqvo

The Friday panels this Examiner attended were SRO - standing room only; the audience energy and vibe palpable.

Authenticity and sincerity suffused the Food + The Midwest panel. It was sponsored by SAVEUR magazine and moderated by Betsy Andrews, executive editor, who helped lead the culinary exploration of America’s Heartland.

Panelists included Amy Thielen, author, The New Midwestern Table http://www.amazon.com/The-New-Midwestern-Table-Heartland/dp/0307954870;
David Tamarkin, Middlewest Magazine, Jeni Britton Bauer, founder, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Emily Elsen, co-founder, Four & Twenty Blackbirds. A book signing in the Wythe Library followed the panel. Thielen also gave out her homegrown wild rice to book fans!

The panelists discussed the undeniable sense of community there, how the sharing of food is a big part of the area’s culture, were sharing pots of stew are common. For example, Minnesota locals will make an especially big kettle of stew, made with two different kinds of meat, homegrown veggies, and set it up at a nearby park where folks can bring their empty crock-pots to fill up and visit at the same time. Same holds true for fish fries.

Pioneers

There was also discussion about fusing their love and passion for the beautiful prairie as the antithesis of the big corporate farms and makers of processed foods.

The panelists stressed the very American landscape where most everyone hunts, grows, forages and fishes; harvesting their front yards, saying they are not only looking to their Native American cuisine for inspiration. Pioneering is part of their heritage – in their DNA.

It was also noted that the Midwest is the epicenter of wild rice production and they hope that prices will be restored to the 1970’s price per pound benchmark.

Andrews asked each panelist to cite their Midwest food "aha’s" to share with the audience. Highlights included: Cider – Michigan alone is producing more than ten kinds of single batch craft ciders made from different kinds of trees. A local pickling tip a panelist’s grandmother swears by is to include silver dollar-sized grape leaves in her pickle-making process.

Hoping this trend makes it out from the Midwest is cinnamon roll bread service served before dinner. The heady, spicy fragrance alone is an export whose time has arrived.

Clearly, the Midwest Pioneers are hoping to shake off what they perceive as a fusty perception and showcase their homegrown culinary roots in somewhat the same way that the South has done recently; showing off rediscovered family recipes and regional food and drink treasures.

Food + Enterprise: Anatomy of a Deal

Organized by Slow Money NYC in partnership with Sustainability Practice Network NY, GrowNYC, NRDC, Community Food Funders, Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders, and Foodshed Investors NY and modified by Jennifer Grossman, NRDC.

Featured panelists were Jim Hyland, Founder & CEO, Farm-to-Table Co-Packers, Todd Erling, Executive Director, Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation, Lisa Williams, Investment Associate, Imprint Capital, Jerry Cosgrove, Associate Director, Local Economies Project, Jacob Israelow, Founder, Dirt Capital Partners.

The hands-on, real world advice and counsel offered by these experts was substantive and well received. They discussed the overriding mission-driven; collaborative elements and commitment to community are hallmarks of their success. Citing the fact that most local food entrepreneurs are under-capitalized, the need for technical and transactional support is imperative. The challenge is to reconcile inherent tensions that exist within any business dynamic – to break down barriers to make opportunities. And look to mitigate risk.

“We are more like a tree or neurological mapping with regard to how the food system operates.” Hyland said, sharing how initially there were natural barriers found in the local food business in the Catskills, Adirondack, Hudson Valley, and Berkshires but they all found common ground and worked together to create a local economic opportunity for all.

The audience was urged to focus on “Capacity Building.” The challenge is how to recreate opportunity built on a handshake -- and model that behavior in a macro, predictable way while still supporting the local farmers and community.

Hyland shared the story of how he works with Rick’s Picks who needed a local co-packer to work with Hudson Valley harvestable to provide a hub to pack product from more than 60 different farms. And another success story about the local farmer needed to sell 6,000 pounds of strawberries and after a few phone calls was able to get them off the farmer’s hands – based on strong relationships. Hyland noted the farmer didn’t get paid till December but he got paid, saved the strawberry harvest and stayed true to the mission.

“IT all comes down to personal trust and collaboration,” Hyland stated.

Later in the program, the audience was urged to break up into small groups for a break out session of sorts to discuss their business needs and how to collaborate and forge alliances. “We are the ingredients in our own food systems,” urged Grossman.

Dirt Capital’s Israelow talked about how the social practices and adherence to mission and ROI, along with a business’ strengths and weaknesses will drive their investments, mainly in farmland as a long term leased operation.

Imprint Capital’s Williams cites three key components they look for: Mission Fit, Quality Management, and Financial Health.

There was a compelling discussion about what the “Virtuous Cycle” and what constitutes a successful food system: financial sustainability, good business and profitability.

Panelists strongly suggested not to overlook the help of the Small Business Administration and the state of New York. “New York is a great partner. Farm to table would never have happened without their great ideas and support,” noted Hyland.

Food + Enterprise: Pitch Competition – Food Fight

This was an animated “Shark Tank”-styled panel and pitch competition where ten, pre- selected panelists with food start-ups presented their case for funding and the judges gave a sliding scale of thumbs up or down to fund right away or later.

Presented by Chipotle and Slow Money NYC in partnership with Grow NYC, NRDC, Community Food Funders and Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders.

The judges -- who inadvertently aligned by gender on two sides of the stage were teased about the stand-off by moderator Emilie Baltz, Baltz Works, included Taylor Erkkinen, co-owner, The Brooklyn Kitchen, Michael Hurwitz, director, NYC Greenmarkets, Liz Neumark, CEO Great Performances Catering, Elly Truesdell, Whole Foods, Jon Zeltsman, Down to Earth Markets.

The pitch entrepreneurs were astonishingly poised, not surprisingly, passionate. They presented their pitches in crisp, well-narrated presentations. They had to tell their start up stories, market differentiation, challenges, and financial metrics in an engaging way. And exude supreme confidence. In front of a live audience.

Then the judges got to ask a few questions and vote on whether to fund or not.

Baltz joked this was a “Shark Tank for Foody’s) and that she begged to moderate this panel again this year. It was easy to see she was tickled pink about the format the participants. She also pointed out that unlike TV – this was not a competition; rather a showcase. “This is a point in their journey with a variety of coaches not a pitching competition,” said Baltz.

Events continued through Saturday and Sunday, with panel discussions on topics like Farming + Scalability, Food + Cocktails, and a GMO roundtable with Dave Arnold and the Museum of Food and Drink. Eight authors will take to the stage during the Foodbook Slam, a Moth-style storytelling event where the audience picks the winner. Food Book Farm, an interactive schoolyard for young agriculture enthusiasts took place on Saturday at Smorgasburg.

Probably the best way to benefit and enjoy the Food Book Fair is to reserve a weekend at the Wythe Hotel and for four days and nights - simply immerse oneself in all things food, books, art along with drink and food tastings galore.

Cheers.

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