By Jae Gerhart, MSU Extension – Local Foods Coordinator, Full Council Member, and Chair of the Farmers & Institutional Purchasing Policy Action Team
Photo by: Lindsey Scalera
On Tuesday, January 17, 2017, approximately 125 people gathered at the Cobblestone Barn in Ann Arbor for a groundbreaking Meet-the-Buyers event. For years, farmer-buyer networking events have been happening around the state and provide a platform for relationship-building between farmers, food makers, and wholesale buyers. Wholesale purchasers of all kinds (chefs, distributors, grocers, food processors, institutions) were in attendance as well as approximately 40 farms and other food suppliers. Described by some as a hybrid between a speed-dating event and a trade show, the suppliers (farmers and food producers) were invited to initiate conversations with the wholesale buyers who were stationed at tables along the perimeter of the room.
The discussions around the room ranged from introductory to specific. Both buyers and sellers were encouraged to ask each other questions about product varieties, quality, sizing, packaging, delivery, certifications, investment potential for scaling up operations, etc. Business cards, sales sheets, and publicity materials were also exchanged.
So why are these networking events so important? A farmer can grow all the food in the world but if there are no buyers for that food, it rots in the ground. Beginning farms and food businesses often lack the time or staff to network with area buyers. This event offers these farmers and small food processors an opportunity for which to efficiently make new connections with interested buyers.
This event was made possible thanks to generous donations from Slow Food Huron Valley and the Washtenaw County Food Policy Council, as well as with organizational support by Michigan State University Extension, the Michigan Farm to Institution Network, and Michigan Food and Farming Systems. A huge thank you to the many volunteers who helped make this event a success. We were able to offer a variety food choices made with 90% locally-sourced ingredients. If you would like to host your own Meet-the-Buyer event in your community, check out this excellent guide, produced by Michigan Food & Farming Systems (MIFFS).