Keepin’ It Local: Boston’s First Local Food Festival and the Man Who Helped Make it Happen

by Katie Andrews

In the past three years that I’ve lived in Boston, I’ve realized that it is a city composed of passionate foodies, especially when it comes to our local New England grub. And, as we Beantown locals know, Boston certainly loves a street festival. Thus the Boston Local Food Festival was born, held for the first time on a gorgeous October 2nd morning in the newly developed Fort Point Channel area of downtown Boston.

Having been one of the hundreds of volunteers, including many Tufts students, I have my own reviews of the most amazing bites, interesting characters, and impressive displays of fresh produce. But rather than torture you with descriptions of the delicious local fare, I sat down with one of Boston’s local food celebrities, who has helped build the legacy of a festival that will hopefully live a long life here in Boston.

Jamey Lionette, a consultant to the Sustainable Food Network who coordinated the event, was co-owner of Garden of Eden Cafe and owner of Lionette’s Market in Boston’s South End. An organizer of Slow Food events and an outspoken supporter of local food sourcing, Jamey’s role in the festival was to bridge the gap between restaurants wanting to source local foods and Boston-area farms and restaurants wanting to source local foods. Festival vendors were required to source all meats, dairy, fruits, and vegetables locally with some vendors even sourcing local grains.. So, Jamey had his work cut out for him.

My first question for Jamey: “So how did it go?”

Knowing Jamey from our first meeting regarding the festival earlier in the summer, I knew even this would prompt more than a simple “Great!”

He told me that some things didn’t go down as smoothly as hoped; the festival was overcrowded as the police had moved half of the vendors off the Congress Street the night before. In addition, the turnout was more than double what was expected and some vendors ran out of food.

However, the overall goal was to expose Boston to more local food vendors and introduce the vendors to local farms. With that being said, the festival was most definitely a success. Jamey excitedly shared some of the relationships formed through the festival:

Singh’s Roti in Dorchester, who had previously only used local peppers, is now going completely local – all the way down to using flour grown and milled in MA.

M&M Ribs of Roxbury, who had a line over a half-hour long for brisket and BBQ, has teamed-up with City Growers of Dorchester as the restaurant’s exclusive provider of collards beginning next year. They will also no doubt have new customers traveling out for some seriously tasty BBQ (myself included).

Batch ice cream of Jamaica Plain, one of Jamey’s personal favorites, was actually sold out of their delicious Salted Caramel flavor the next three times he attempted to buy a pint after the festival. Maybe too much success can be a bad thing.

These are not the types of restaurants you normally expect to see in food festivals, but Jamey knew the value of diversifying the vendors and involving ethnic restaurants in sourcing local food. These “unusual suspects,” as Jamey calls them, may not have previously seen value in providing their diners with local foods, but given the turnout at the festival, they almost certainly do now. “There is too much food in Boston,” as Jamey says, “but buying locally can make you stand out.”

And as for us local foodies, we can only hope to see the festival again next year. Continued sponsorship and support will be key to the festival’s future. More than anything, Jamey spoke about the importance of remaining local rather than recruiting the larger national and international brands as sponsors.

In the meantime, our job as consumers is to support the businesses that are buying locally, reminding us that tomatoes do not grow year round in the northeast but that our environment does provide us with plentiful sources of diverse food. Keep the local food movement going throughout the year. Travel outside of your neighborhood and comfort zone to try new restaurants or seek out new products. Or, for the very brave, visit your local farms to show your support. As Jamey says, “If you can know your chef, why can’t you know your farmer?”

Katie Andrews is a first year Nutrition Communication student and is also enrolled in the dual Simmons program to pursue her Dietetic Internship. Like many students at Friedman, she loves nothing more than food – cooking it, eating it, talking and writing about it!

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