By Michele DeLuca
Niagara Gazette — A conference to expand the local food market in Western New York will be held at the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute today and Monday.
The WNY Connections Conference was created by Lisa Tucker, founder of Field & Fork, a nonprofit organization designed to fortify the regional farm-based food economy in Western New York.
"We started doing these conferences as a way to connect more of our local agriculture with business opportunities," she said.
The event will feature speakers, workshops on wine, bread and cheese making and other food demonstrations. In addition, each day will feature a keynote speaker.
At 11:15 a.m., today, Dr. Oran Hesterman will speak on sustainable agriculture and food systems. Hesterman helped establish the Michigan Food Policy Council and is the author of "Fair Food: Growing a Healthy and Sustainable Food System for All."
At 11:15 a.m. Monday Chef Michel Nischan will discuss sustainable farming. Nischan is owner and founder of Dressing Room – a homegrown restaurant in Wesport, Conn. and president of Wholesome Wave, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting increased production and access to healthy, fresh and affordable locally grown food. He is a two-time James Beard award winner and currently is on the board of trustees for both the James Beard Foundation and the Rodale Institute.
Many local food suppliers will be participating, including the Lexington Co-Operative Market from Buffalo, also a sponsor of the conference. Representatives from the member-owned natural foods nonprofit will show the co-op's 40th anniversary film, made by Buffalo filmmaker John Paget.
"We think its a great networking opportunity," said Heather Lazickas, promotions and education coordinator for the co-op. "We're really excited about the farmer-consumer connection and for people like our buyers and chefs — and those in the community — to be able to look at how they can bring more local foods to consumers."
Wegman's, also one of the sponsors of the the event, is going to be represented by several of its chefs and produce managers as well as it's vice president of produce, Dave Corsi, who will speak on a panel discussion on motivating institutions to buy local, said Theresa Jackson, consumer affairs manager for the food store chain.
"We definitely suport local growers and feature local foods as often as we can and want to make sure we support that movement," Jackson added.
The “Connections Conference” will also feature programs and workshops focused on the direct-to-consumer segment of the food and farming community and industry-related topics particular to culinary and agriculture industries. Topics include sustainable food trends and the role of the community, the next generations of farmers, how technology is changing our food system and more.
Tucker, who is also publisher of Edible Buffalo Magazine, said the two-day event is open to the public. Admission is $95 for a single day and $150 for both days.
For more information visit www.wnyconnectionsconference.com.IF YOU GO • WHAT: Field & Fork event • WHEN: Today and Monday • WHERE: Niagara Falls Culinary Institute • MORE INFO: Visit www.wnyconnectionsconference.com