The idea is pretty simple: People who are interested in food get together to eat, drink and talk about food.
As new ideas go, mark this one down as highly successful.
The Countryside Conservancy sponsored its first mixer Monday, and plenty of folks showed up to take part in the conversation, which was as varied as those having it.
I chatted with two goat farmers, a cheese maker, people who run local farmers markets, and a bunch of others who just like to eat. We talked about topics ranging from our favorite cooking magazines, to juice fasts, to our thoughts on this season’s premiere of Downton Abbey.
The dozens who turned out for the mixer filled the entire bar area at Crave, the downtown Akron restaurant.
It was a gratifying sight for Darwin Kelsey, the conservancy’s executive director. In 1999, he began efforts with a goal of returning acreage in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park back to farmland.
At that time, the idea of encouraging small farm growth and the local production of food was on the fringe. What a difference a decade can make.
“There really has been a cultural change,” Kelsey said. “Back in 1999, a meeting like this would not have been workable.”
Now the local food movement has gathered enough public support and interest that local pioneers, like Kelsey, are convinced it is here to stay. “We can believe that it will happen,” he said.
But getting folks interested in producing food locally is only half of the equation. The other half is getting the community interested in buying it, building the demand side to match the growing supply side.
That’s part of what the mixers are about, Kelsey explained: getting people interested in the conversation who aren’t part of the producers’ side of the local food movement.
Monday’s mixer attracted plenty of producer types: Cindy and Terry Smith of Goatfeathers Point Farm, who raise goats and turkeys; Sally Ohle of Summit Croissants; and Kevin and Kristyn Henslee who operate the new Yellow House Cheese in Seville.
The Henslees recently began raising a herd of 40 sheep to produce aged sheep’s milk blue cheese.
As Julie Wandling Costell, owner of Miss Julie’s Kitchen vegan eatery in Akron, put it: “I like meeting new people, making connections. The more cool stuff they do, the more cool stuff I can do.”
But there were others too, like Gus Poplus of Akron, who described himself as “an eater” who came with friends just to enjoy the conversation.
For those who are interested in food even just as a pastime, the conversation was varied enough to offer everyone something to chew on.
The conservancy is hosting the mixers the first Monday of every month at 7 p.m. at Crave, 57 E. Market St., downtown Akron. They are free and open to the public. Appetizers are provided, and there is a cash bar. The next meeting is Feb. 4.
Kelsey said his only concern at this point, as he looked around the crowded bar, is whether they’ll have to look for a larger meeting space. That’s a good problem to have.