While the humble potato may be Idaho’s most famous product, the Gem State is home to a burgeoning food scene with flourishing fine dining restaurants, farmers markets, wineries and breweries.
On July 14, the Idaho Business Review connected with some of the most creative people in the food world for a virtual Breakfast Series discussion on the topic of “Food Culture: Growing Idaho’s Food Industry.” The five panelists are true innovators who are pushing the envelope, looking for healthier and more environmentally-conscious ways to feed people.
Overall, agriculture is the Gem State’s number-one industry, pulling in approximately $4 billion per year, with dairy the most significant agricultural product, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The pandemic has taught all of us a great deal about the value of the food supply chain – we’ve learned it’s almost as important as the toilet paper supply chain – and people are looking for ways to get their food more locally and in ways that don’t require them to go into crowded supermarkets.
Each panelist brought a unique point of view to these issues.
The Breakfast Series panel
Colette DePhelps, board advisor, FARE Idaho, and also a Community Food Systems area educator with the University of Idaho Extension. She has more than 25 years’ experience developing local food systems and cross-sector partnerships. DePhelps also serves on the Moscow Farmers Market Commission, chairs the Palouse-Clearwater Food Coalition, and is co-founder of Rural Roots, a Idaho-based small farm nonprofit organization.
Karianne Fallow, CEO of Dairy West, a marketing and promotion organization representing the dairy communities in Idaho and Utah. Prior to joining the organization in 2013, Fallow worked as director of public affairs and business development for Red Sky Public Relations. Fallow, a native Idahoan, also previously led public affairs and government relations efforts for Walmart in several Western states.
Dave Krick, founding partner of Bittercreek Alehouse, Diablo & Sons and Red Feather Lounge, three Boise-based restaurants with a focus on products from our local food system. Along with the restaurant businesses, he is active in the local nonprofit community, serving as a community board member for Boise Farmers Market and as a founding board member and current board president for City of Good and FARE Idaho.
Laura M. Johnson, bureau chief, marketing and development, Idaho State Department of Agriculture, joined the marketing division in 1991 and oversees all of the Department’s marketing programs including Idaho Preferred, farmers’ markets, specialty foods and international trade.
Kate Stoddard, founder of Orchestra Provisions, a company triggering behavioral modifications through product development, and the winner of last year’s Trailmix food competition. Its mission is focused on addressing issues of sustainable food systems and global food security. Orchestra Provisions advocates and educates surrounding the topic of entomophagy, the practice of eating insects.
Moderator: Tracy Wright, partner, Hawley Troxell, has a general litigation practice with an emphasis on commercial and business litigation, construction litigation, professional liability, personal injury and intellectual property litigation. Following graduation, Wright worked as a teacher in South Korea, then moved to Moscow, Idaho, where he founded the Red Door restaurant before being admitted to the University of Idaho College of Law. During law school, Wright continued to operate the restaurant, while also serving as a teaching assistant in the legal research and writing department. Wright has represented and advised numerous restaurant and hospitality industry clients. Tracy also has consulted with members of Idaho’s wine industry.
Below are a few questions and answers from the event. To view a complete replay of the event, go to the Idaho Business Review website at https://idahobusinessreview.com/breakfast-series/.
What effect has COVID-19 had on Idaho food businesses and consumers’ interest in local food?
“It has impacted us in every way imaginable. Food is distributed in two main ways across the country — you’ve got the consumer goods through the grocery markets and then you’ve got the restaurants. The restaurant world has grown into a huge market for food across the country, and it was completely shut down, obviously. That disrupted the entire system. The system is built on efficiency — and a lot of concentration in how food is processed happens because of those efficiencies — and those efficiencies were disrupted. We are still dealing with that right now.”
– Dave Krick
What are some innovations you have seen in response to COVID-19?
“Up in the North, we have seen some innovative things where farmers and small-scale processors are working together to support each other. We have seen CSAs that have added on that you can order from a local microbrewery and have either beer or kombucha delivered with your weekly CSA delivery so it comes right to your doorstep. We’ve seen a social distancing model where about five producers come together and they partner with produce, value-added products — so jams, syrup, grain mixes like canned cake mixes or flour and meat that is processed by like Moscow Sausage Company. So they bring that together and they create a bundle that is again a (socially) distanced pickup. What they are trying to do is really work together to support multiple businesses. We’ve also seen our restaurants quickly pivot to bring in local canned beer to support the breweries that had to close down at least initially because they weren’t serving food. We’ve seen a lot of community support. I also want to say that our restaurants have been devastated by this. Some will not open again. We already know that and we see others that are trying to hang on and there is a great concern for their employees and the impact that our food systems have on our communities because our restaurants are such a social binding force for our communities.”
– Colette DePhelps
How has Idaho’s interest in local food changed over the past few years, aside from COVID-19?
“Consumers want to know where their food comes from and we have done some consumer awareness surveys in the last few years, it has been a couple of years since our last one, but consumers clearly prefer to buy and support local. It supports their local economy. It supports local producers, and they have a real interest in that, and we’ve seen that growing for some time. And I think we’ve worked to capitalize on that as well by telling more the farmer’s stories about Idaho agriculture. For social media, we do a Farmer Friday feature every week and they have been extremely successful — it gets a lot of shares. Our one from last week, over 35,000 people have looked at that, which is just unbelievable in a lot of ways. We’ve really seen a growth in that, and chefs have wanted to buy more local products. Dave (Krick), you’ve been one of the pioneers in working with our program to get more local products on menus. We’ve done farmer-chef collaboratives throughout the years in different parts of the state to facilitate those connections, and we’ve had some great support from retailers. Walmart is one of those where, yes, they are larger, and many of our producers are not set up to sell to somebody like Walmart, but they have really worked hard to promote local products as well. They have great signage that we produced where you can see local products clearly identified in their stores year-round.”
– Laura M. Johnson
What led you to open your business in Idaho?
“I’m an Idahoan, born and raised here, and I think there is a lack of alternative answers to very traditional questions here in Idaho. Of course, it is growing and our population is growing and our food systems are still not as diverse as they could be, but I think moving out of the state would be a smarter business choice but not doing our state any favors. Sometimes it’s not as easy to run a business in a place like Idaho like this, but it’s where it’s needed the most. I’m attracted to the challenge of it, and of course I am very invested in my home state. I love it here.”
– Kate Stoddard
What challenges are you seeing in developing food products in Idaho?
“Dairy’s challenge in this regard isn’t necessarily an Idaho challenge; it’s one we face across the country. We simply lack innovation because we have traditionally had a commodity mindset: We make it, they buy it. Where we need to shift to is understanding what people want and then making what they want so they’ll buy it. We are seeing a lot of companies, farmers in some cases, vertically integrating, and other companies seeking out Idaho because it is ripe for innovation.”
– Karianne Fallow
The next Idaho Business Review Breakfast Series topic is Idaho on the Move: Transportation Trends. The panel discussion will be held via Zoom at 10 a.m. on Aug. 4. Panelists include Vanessa Crossgrove Fry, interim director, Idaho Policy Institute, Boise State University; Laila Kral, deputy administrator, Local Highway Technical Assistance Council; Mollie McCarty, Office of Government Affairs manager, Idaho Transportation Department; Lantz McGinnis-Brown, research associate, Idaho Policy Institute; Gabe Osterhout, research associate, Idaho Policy Institute. Registration is free. Go to https://idahobusinessreview.com/breakfast-series/ to register.