Local Foods Expo Highlights Sustainable Berea’s Strategy to Increase Local Food Security

It was a miserably rainy day with a low of 41 degrees, but it didn’t dampen the spirits of more than 200 people who came to Sustainable Berea’s 5th Annual Local Foods Expo (LFE).  On this last Saturday in March, people skipped in the rain in the old-fashioned cake walk, huddled underneath the small cabin’s porch to spend $352 at the home-made pie auction, and bought almost all the stock of the participating vendors.  

Had it been a sunny, dry day, we would have perhaps reached our normal audience size -- about 500 to 600.  Nevertheless, the event was a spectacular success and people were energetic and enthusiastic.

While last year’s LFE had only 16 vendors, this year’s event drew 38 businesses and non-profits with a range of products and information.  Offerings included mushroom logs, knife and tool sharpening, seven types of local food, blueberry bushes, vegetable starts, cedar raised beds, rain barrels, top soil and compost, top bar bee hives, and bamboo trellises. Community members could “borrow” seeds from the Seed Saving Project -- a partnership of the County Public Libraries and Sustainable Berea – and “adopt” one of 32 heirloom bean varieties from eastern Kentucky as part of the Adopt-a-Bean Project. At the Edible Streets Project booth, people could apply for free fruit and nut trees for their neighborhood.

As the LFE has grown each year, we have to remind would-be vendors of the purpose of the LFE -- to “bring together consumers and growers/producers/sellers/educators in an event that celebrates and promotes our region’s local food economy. All products must be locally grown/produced/made. “

Our definition of local is a 100-mile radius around Berea and includes everything from cheese production to free-range chickens. We do not allow non-food related or non-local vendors at this event.

From the consumer perspective, people can purchase almost everything they need for home food production, and we design the event to encourage education and dialogue among our citizens about the importance of increasing of our local food economy.

Sustainable Berea welcomes questions from anyone who wants to put on a Local Foods Expo.  Here are some of the reasons that our 5th Annual Local Foods Expo was a great success despite wretched weather:

SB’s Reputation: In our 8th year of existence, almost everyone in our small town (population 14,500) knows us.  The LFE, in its 5th year, is a ‘signature event’ and many people look forward to it annually.

Advertising:   4,000 inserts were mailed with the local natural gas bills at no cost to SB.  This exposure helped us attract nine event sponsors who each paid $100 for their logo to be on the mailers and posters.  Our marketing campaign included rack cards, posters, yard signs (one of our most effective kinds of advertising), social media, and press releases. We were able to capture significant media attention from newspapers in Berea, Richmond and Lexington. 

More local involvement:  More than 25 people baked cakes and pies for the cake-walk and pie auction.  These people talk to others, boosting the local interest/involvement in the event.

Location: The Local Foods Expo was moved this year to a site in Old Town, a district in the middle of a crafts neighborhood that already draws tourists.  There was plenty of parking (which was a major complaint at our former location on the college campus).

Tents: A big tent from the city and lots of pop-ups provided essential shelter from the rain.

Partnerships:  A trolley (ok, a bus made to look like a trolley) ran a loop from the LFE to the Berea College greenhouses plant sale and on to the B.C. Farm Store. This increased the ‘critical mass’ of the event, and provided for some an opportunity to relax and get warm.

For information contact us!  info@sustainableberea.org or facebook page: Sustainable Berea.

Photos courtesy of Sustainable Berea (from top): a tent city protects the Local Foods Expo from the rain, banner advertising Local Food Expo, fresh local bread at the Expo, making mushroom logs, seed library commemorative t-shirt.




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