‘Farm2Fork Affair’ showcases local foods; producers and consumers paired at inaugural event

Page News and Courier

LURAY, March 6 ― Several hundred packed the Mimslyn Inn Monday afternoon to see what local producers have to bring to the sustainable table, and to get a taste of what the Northern Shenandoah Valley has to offer.

Featuring exhibits, special speakers and an array of Valley offerings, the inaugural Farm2Fork Affair included about 40 producers and more than 100 buyers in an effort to encourage and increase the purchase and production of local goods, said Page County Director of Community and Economic Development Stephanie Lillard.

The collaborative effort by the county tourism offices of Rockingham, Shenandoah and Winchester-Frederick, as well Harrisonburg Tourism, Page County Economic Development, Virginia Cooperative Extension and Fields of Gold, was the first of its kind in the area.

“It's a great way to get your products off the farm,” said Amy Foley of Luray's River Hill Distillery. “There are so many great farms in the area that offer so many local products.”

With big business behind local food, said Diane Small of Sysco, going “local is increasingly important to everybody.”

In 2015, more than 167,000 U.S. farms locally produced and sold food through direct marketing practices, resulting in $8.7 billion in revenue that year, according to results released in December by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The inaugural local food marketing survey covered both fresh and value-added foods, such as meats and cheeses.

Most farms selling directly to consumers sold through outlets such as farmers markets and on-farm stores, according to the survey. More than 80 percent of all direct-market food sales occurred within 100 miles of the farm, with most farms selling to consumers less than 20 miles from their largest-grossing marketplace.

“From a chef's perspective, not just my own … it's important to support the local economy,” said Monday's keynote speaker John Hoffman, who serves as executive chef at Keswick Hall in Charlottesville. “I think if you work with a local restaurant or resort, that money stays there ― and it increases revenue.”

According to the USDA, Virginia's 3,415 farms reported $217.3 million in direct farm sales of food in 2015, making the state No. 9 in the nation for local food sales.

According to the most recent Census of Agriculture five years ago, Page County includes 545 farms and more than 71,100 acres of farmland. According to the census, Page ranked third in the state for sales of broilers, meat-type chickens and roosters. The county also ranked third in Virginia for sales of livestock and products and fourth for total farm product sales.

“To have such a huge event in Page County that brings in so many other counties just adds to the impact of bringing local products to the table,” said President of the Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce Gina Hilliard. “The partnership starts there.”

With Monday's Farm2Fork Affair bringing consumers and producers face to face, added Lillard, those partnerships will likely “go far beyond today's event.”

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