5 Things We Learned at The Arizona Farmer+Chef Connection

For the fifth year in a row, food producers (farmers, artisans, bakers, etc.) and food buyers (chefs, restaurant owners, etc.) gathered for a day of networking and education at Arizona Farmer+Chef Connection. The event, held at the Desert Botanical Garden, included speakers, panels, and a marketplace designed to bring together the many parts of our state's food system.

We were there to get a better understanding of how our food system really works; here are five of the lessons we learned during the day.

See also: 10 Things Learned at TEDx's Night of Food in Phoenix

Infrastructure is important

The Farmer+Chef conference began with stories from three keynote speakers: Danielle Leoni of The Breadfruit, Paul Moir of SLO Concepts, and Derrick Widmark of Diablo Burger. One of the underlying themes of both Moir and Widmark's stories was the importance of establishing a strong infrastructure for the local food movement. Moir touched on how difficult it had been to acquire local produce when he opened his first restaurant, Brix, in Flagstaff in 2006. Now, with the opening on his new "Arizona-raised meatery," Proper Meats, Moir is helping to improve the infrastructure for local meats. Though consumers are increasingly asking for locally sourced ingredients, Moir pointed out that we first need to change and in some cases rebuild the proper infrastructure to move products around the state.

"It takes a village to feed a village."

Though he wasn't the only one to talk about the need to get more people involved in the food system, Windmark -- whose Diablo Burger uses only local, grass-fed beef and tries to source ingredients from within in 250-mile radius -- summed it up best by saying, "It takes a village to feed a village." He also talked about the unique advantage food has over other products, everyone needs it, which gives restaurant owners and chefs a better chance at connecting with consumers. In Widmark's words, it's this "intention" behind the food that keeps him going.

Policy affects the way we eat

During the breakout session, "The State of Food: Local Food Policy and Urban Agriculture," we heard a panel of experts talk about how policy affects the way we eat. Though the average person may not think about it, the current laws and regulations have a huge affect on our current food system. Some of the examples given during the panel include the disparity of farmers market regulations from county to county, laws surrounding food trucks, and regulations that make it difficult to establish community gardens. The good news is that a handful of stakeholders and organizations are working on building a Maricopa County food policy counsel (working name) that will work together to change policy that affects food.

Local milk in glass bottles is coming to grocery stores soon

At the Suppliers' Marketplace food buyers were able to try products and meet both established and emerging food producers. One of the exciting companies we found was Danzeisen Dairy, a 50 year old family-run dairy located near the base of South Mountain. Soon the dairy will be selling their milk commercially at local grocery stores -- and the best part is it will be available in reusable glass bottles. Not only do the glass bottles cut down on waste, they also help preserve the integrity and flavor of the milk. For updates on where you'll be able to buy Danzeisen milk, check their website.

Aeroponics may be the next big thing

Sure, urban farming is important and will hopefully become more commonplace in the future. But aeroponics is also an option for helping us to keep up with the increasing demand for sustainable food. Growing food in aeroponic towers requires much less water and space than growing plants in soil, which means we can increase production by growing more in this fashion. Chefs can then also pick up palettes of live greens and bring them to their restaurant; they don't have to kill them until they're ready to cook with them. On the downside, you can't grow root vegetables without soil.

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