2016 Finalist

This project has been selected as a finalist in the Food Stewardship category:

Feast! Local Foods Network

Project Summary

The Feast! Local Food Network is a partnership of many organizations, businesses, and individuals committed to growing a sustainable, local and regional food system which encourages innovation. As a result of its work, Feast! hopes to see current businesses flourish and new businesses get established.

The project’s objectives Include:

•  To link entrepreneurs to information and business expertise

•  To boost entrepreneurs access to financial support

•  To increase and strengthen regional connections

The first major undertaking of the Feast! Local Food Network was to plan and implement the Feast! Local Foods Marketplace. The inaugural event took place in November 2014 and its success led to a second event that was held on December 4 and 5, 2015. The two-day event fostered connections among farmers, food makers, consumers, and retail, institutional, and wholesale buyers in a three state region (MN, IA, WI). Rochester was selected as the location for the event because of its key role in the multi-state region and because it is central to many innovative food and farm businesses.

The first day of the event is an industry only trade show. The trade show includes a range of opportunities for farmers, foodmakers and buyers to learn from each other, access technical assistance, and network with each other. The goal is to introduce buyers to local farmers and foodmakers in order to expand sales.

The second day the doors open to the public. Farmers and foodmakers showcase and sell their products at over 100 exhibit booths, chefs demonstrate recipes that incorporate local foods, experts offer workshops on healthy eating, and kids enjoy food-focused activities.

Both years attendance was over 300 people on the tradeshow day and over 1,300 on the public day. While the event receives great reviews, the behind the scenes work and outreach is also impressive. Over 30 organizations are involved in the planning of the project. A jury of individuals review applications and ensure that products are not just made locally, but, when possible, source ingredients from local farms. An outreach team of over a dozen people write articles, pitch stories to the press, and use social media to spread the word about the event, specifically, and more generally about local foods businesses and how they contribute to the economy and community.

The Feast! Local Foods Marketplace is the most visible of the network’s activities, but other activities include a “Finance Team” that works with entrepreneurs to assist them in finding the capital they need to grow their businesses and a “Peer-to-Peer Network” provides ongoing support among local foods businesses.

Project Website


Project Partners

  • Renewing the Countryside
  • Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF)
  • Mayo Clinic
  • University of Minnesota Extension’s Southeast Regional Partnership
  • Minnesota Department of Agriculture
  • People’s Food Co-op
  • Olmsted County Public Health
  • Rochester Convention & Visitors Bureau
  • McKnight Foundation
  • City of Cannon Falls

How did the project partners work together?

The core of Feast! Network’s success roots in the extensive web of partners contributing to this collaborative project. Over 30 distinct organizations and over 60 individuals come together to plan and execute the event – not including all of the exhibitors, speakers, or day-of-event volunteers. This team provides wide expertise and on-the-ground contacts across many communities, which deeply enrich the project process and outcomes. In addition to the ten partners from question 2, this project also included Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, Channel One Food Bank, Hy-Vee, Rural Advantage, Winona County, Rochester Post Bulletin, Lanesboro Local, USDA Rural Development, Organic Processing Institute, Region Nine Development Commission, Kwik Trip

Growing food stewardship in Minnesota is not a one-size-fits all solution and needs to be both community-based and driven by all players in the process: farmers, wholesale buyers, institutions, consumers, agencies, etc. By casting the net wide and including partners like the healthcare system, regional economic development and tourism – entities not typically at the local food planning table – Feast! successfully hit the ground running from the start.

It’s important to remember in building such partnerships that there is a continuum of understanding of local/regional foods – and you have to meet people where they are at. Feast! provides a unique forum to bring a diversity of experiences and perspective to the table, an opportunity to engage in productive discussions creating a stronger end result. Collaboration takes time, but it is worth it, as the Feast! partners have learned. While there were times that everyone didn’t have consensus on a direction, partners kept meeting and talking, and in the end were all pleased with the result.

How is the project groundbreaking?

Feast! champions three key areas of innovation in food stewardship:


Local food systems will achieve long-term, healthy growth when there is a diversity of partners at the planning table. To effectively expand, the Feast! partners recognize that the movement needs to include a variety of “shapes and sizes,” from small food cooperatives to regional supermarket chains. Involving large healthcare stakeholders, like Mayo Clinic, bring important new perspectives, include how can we keep our communities healthy for the long term.

Replicable outside major metro

Prior to the Feast! Local Foods Marketplace event, most similar events in Minnesota were based near the Twin Cities and attracted the urban “foodie” crowd. However, the local food movement today stands at a crossroads in that the only way we can really grow a healthier nation is to reach beyond metro and involve suburban and rural populations. By locating the Feast! event in Rochester, the Network was able to reach an expanded audience at a time when it can further influence the vision for the region as plans are underway for Destination Medical Center.

Public & industry collaboration

This holistic successful approach of Feast! is replicable: Food system stewardship moves forward when a diversity of players is involved, from the farmers that cultivate the seeds to the consumer who buys the end product to the distributors, retailers, wholesalers, buyers and other industry players in-between. While Feast partners anticipated that producers and buyers would make connections, a serendipitous perk coming out of Feast! is valuable peer-to-peer networking. Both farmers/producers and buyers don’t have many opportunities to connect and share ideas, resources and feedback, the best form of support.

What are the project goals?

Feast! is committed to growing a sustainable, local and regional food system encouraging innovation and stewardship. While Feast! works to expand markets for local foods businesses and to assist those businesses to grow, it also encourages businesses to move towards environmentally-responsible practices.

For instance, as part of the application to participate as an exhibitor in the Feast! Marketplace, businesses are asked about how they source ingredients for their products and what practices they have adopted that differentiate their product. While all applicants were not currently sourcing from local producers for various reasons, they were unanimous in their desire to make those connections and the tradeshow day was an opportunity to learn more.

When the Feast! selection jury finds that a business does not meet the criteria for acceptance as an exhibitor, they offer a detailed explanation of their decision and recommend changes that would help the business to incorporate more environmentally friendly practices and provide technical assistance when possible.

Feast! also took steps to make good environmental decisions in implementing the event. Exhibitors were asked only to use compostable items to sample their food products. The Feast! team worked with the Rochester Civic Center to ensure that there was recycling and composting at the event. They also worked with the catering service to incorporate local foods into the menu, something that required a lot of negotiating and extra effort.

Feast! also encourages the public to make healthy and sustainable food choices. The event features cooking classes and workshops from local chefs and dietitians that instruct the public how to find, prepare, and preserve locally grown foods with healthy recipes and techniques.

What are the project outcomes?

Since 2014, Feast! produced multiple successful outcomes:

  • Attendance: In 2015, public attendance was over 1,300 and the tradeshow added up to 330 folks representing farmers, buyers and others offering technical assistance. Both exceeded target goals.
  • Industry connections: Over 54 percent of exhibitors via the post-event survey indicated that they developed at least one new account as a result of the event. Over 70 buyers attended, representing at least 30 companies.
  • Farmer to Producer connections: Feast! brought farmers and producers to the same space and connections were made. Mike Phillips of Red Table Meats in Minneapolis left with pounds of local hickory nuts. “I’m going to experiment” Mike said, “I’m making a new salami with nuts… like you find in France.”
  • Entrepreneur support: The Feast! team consistently reaches out to give added boosts to fledgling entrepreneurs. For example, Cindy Hale runs Clover Valley Farms & Vinegary, out of Duluth, Minnesota. Cindy recounted, “Renewing the Countryside really helped us—we were so new, we didn’t have signage for a booth. And they helped us design banners and table drapes for the event. RTC provided graphic design and facilitated the printing on a recycled fabric, even arranged the delivery. It really helped us look professional, and we’re still using all of that signage.”
  • Regional connections: The Feast! Local Food Network supports a climate of collaboration and resource sharing among them and yields a better-integrated support services sector for regional food businesses. How can you tell if it’s working? Sales were brisk, connections were made and both increased from 2014 to 2015. And 99 percent of the exhibitors indicated they would return to future events.

Event Details

Thursday, May 25, 2017
5:00 - 5:45 p.m. Registration & reception
5:45 - 8:00 p.m. Dinner & program
8:00 - 9:00 p.m. Dessert & reception 

Nicollet Island Pavilion
40 Power Street
Minneapolis, MN 55401

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Presenting Sponsors

Environmental Lay Group

Great River Energy

Reception sponsor

25th Anniversary Sponsors


Community Action

Critical Collaborator

Stoel Rives LLP

Emerging Leader


Energy and Climate

The Weidt Group

Natural Resources

Sustainable Business

Supporting Sponsors

Minnesota Power

partner SPONSORs

In-kind sponsors


CliftonLarsonAllen LLP

Consulate General of Canada

Rochester Public Utilities

Associate Sponsors

Bremer Bank
G & K Services
Nova Consulting
Smith Partners