Local food producers, buyers meet, talk shop

MIDDLEBURY — On Monday afternoon, the booths in a back room in Proctor Dining Hall at Middlebury College were filled with couples pairing off, chatting, and switching tables.
It looked like speed dating, but the couples included Shaw’s Supermarket managers with local pesto makers, and small food producers with area school foodservice coordinators. The nearly 30 people gathered in the small room were participating in the Addison County Relocalization Network’s second Matchmaker event.
Annie Harlow, who organized the event, said the goal is to provide a platform for discussion between local food producers and buyers.
“ACORN wants to build the economy one relationship at a time,” said Harlow. “These are discussions people wouldn’t necessarily be having otherwise.”
Harlow said everyone came to the event with different hopes, from different angles, and seeking to find different things. Some were looking further down the road, and some were looking to buy or sell immediately. But all were there to talk.
The buyers were each stationed at a table, and growers and producers traveled between them for five chat sessions of seven minutes each. Harlow had assigned all the attendees a partner for each of the sessions, and she traveled around the room reworking the pairs for some whose partners had not shown up.
Vermont Tradewinds in Shoreham sells its value-added maple products primarily through its farmstand, online and by mail-order catalog. Owner Tim Hescock attended the event to seek new markets in the area, with a box of maple granola and maple cream in tow.
“We’re thinking of expanding into wholesale locally,” he said. “Especially (for) a few of our value-added products.”
For him, the event was an opportunity to build local networks. Buyers on his list included Greg’s Meat Market, Graze Delivered and Middlebury College Dining Services.
Rachel Schattner is new to Addison County, having recently moved her Bella Farm from the Intervale in Burlington to Monkton. She grows vegetables and herbs and makes pesto, and attended the event to seek out buyers in the area.
Other producers at the event included Dave Folino of Hillsboro Sugarworks, Eugenie Doyle of Last Resort Farm in Monkton, Dave Dolginow of Sunrise Orchards in Cornwall and Erik Andrus of Boundbrook Farm in Vergennes.
On the buyer end, Randy Thompson, manager of the Middlebury Shaw’s, and Darrick Lounder, regional operations specialist for Shaw’s, were representing the regional supermarket chain.
“We’re trying to be as local as possible,” said Lounder. “Why are we shipping things from Maine to Massachusetts to Vermont when the same product is made just down the road?”
The push to buy and sell locally is a company-wide move, Lounder said, driven both by consumer demand and by logistics. The company is working on tracking sales and comparative costs of local food, but he said it’s finding in many cases that high shipping costs actually make the local options cheaper than food from further afield.
Harlow borrowed the idea for a local matchmaker event from the Vermont Fresh Network’s annual matchmaker event, which happened this Thursday at Shelburne Farms. The event draws sellers and buyers from all over the region, but she said she saw a need for a smaller, more intimate setting.
“We knew we needed more localized matchmaking,” she said. “I wanted to do it where our local growers and our local buyers could meet and have face-to-face contact.”
Harlow said the first local Matchmaker event, in March, received good reviews from those who participated, and that the type of event is important especially as a way to break down perceived walls between buyers and sellers.
“Sometimes we get stuck on scale,” said Harlow. “Some people might be intimidated talking to a regional manager of Shaw’s, but then you find that you both want the same thing — to sell local food.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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