FARE Idaho continues advocacy for local food systems 

Ken Levy//February 6, 2023

FARE Idaho continues advocacy for local food systems 

Ken Levy//February 6, 2023

With a growing membership of more than 312, FARE (Food, Agriculture, Restaurants and Beverage Establishments) Idaho is poised to strengthen its ability to address sourcing local product.

Katie Baker, executive director of FARE Idaho, at the Field to Fork Festival in January at JUMP. Attendees visited vendor booths, attended panel discussions and demonstrations of food preparation, butchering and recipes by area chefs and experts. Photo by Ken Levy

The organization advocates on behalf of its members to “connect Idaho producers to Idaho retailers and consumers to build a more resilient food system,” said Katie Baker, executive director of the 501(c)6 nonprofit trade association representing independent food and beverage businesses across the state. “The biggest success that we have seen is modeling our trade association around our local food system.” 

That system includes farmers, ranchers, food/beverage producers, independent restaurants, beverage establishments and retailers. 

Sourcing local product continues to be one of the biggest hurdles Idaho faces, Baker said. 

“Restaurants, retailers and consumers want to source locally, but aren’t sure where to locate these products,” Baker said. “FARE Idaho is addressing this with an online ordering platform connecting Idaho producers to Idaho retailers through direct financial transactions.” 

With that platform, known as the Field-to-Fork Exchange (F2F), “we want to make sure that we are connecting producers and farmers with the end retailers or restaurants and places like co-ops,” said Justin Buckley, program manager.  

The online sales platform partners with 47 farms, and is open to additional farmers, ranchers, markets, grocers, restaurants and others. A federal specialty crops grant — which includes fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops — allows the exchange “to subsidize you for no cost to list your product on our F2F exchange,” Buckley said. 

Producers can set up a third-party processor to accept credit cards online, and designate when and where self-deliveries are made. The goal is to streamline processes for established relationships and to register new businesses that hope to establish new working relationships. 

“It’s an exchange, not necessarily a food hub,” he said. “We’re not going to take your products and then redistribute.”  

But, Baker said, “we still need to look further in terms of marketing, aggregation and distribution of Idaho products, and as we are a new organization, this will take time to assess the landscape.”  

Events, such as the inaugural Field to Fork Festival sponsored by FARE Idaho in January, provide opportunities for producers, restaurants, growers and others in the local food industry to meet and make connections. Overall, the event drew more than 650 attendees. The nonprofit is already planning a second festival.  

The pandemic was the impetus for the birth of the organization. Baker said its aftershocks have caused labor shortages and supply chain disruptions and increased cost of foods and labor wages. 

“It was one of the most challenging times for independent restaurants, bars, food trucks and caterers,” she said. “They weren’t sure if they were going to lose their businesses through the closures and social distancing. At that point we realized that there was no organization that could advocate on their behalf. Our businesses still face these challenges every day in every sector that we represent.” 

The organization plans to build a more resilient food system, including by telling “the stories of farmers, restaurants and all of our members so that folks support the people behind our food system,” she said. “We want people to know their farmers, ranchers, coffee roasters, restaurant owners and the list goes on. Through that connection our food tastes better, travels less and is more sustainable.” 

FARE Idaho’s advocacy includes supporting policy initiatives that reduce regulatory burdens; protecting Idaho’s farmland; dealing with livestock and licensed beverage legislation and more. It also includes representation on state policies and partnering with the Independent Restaurant Association as the Idaho delegate on national policy, and with Regenerate America, to advocate for the 2023 Farm Bill.  

“Every five years, Congress tries to pass the updated farm bill,” said Amy Mattias, FARE Idaho farm and agriculture chairman. “There’s a petition going around right now to show how many people are supportive of this movement to bring more regenerative practices into the farm bill.” 

According to the Regenerate America website, “Regenerative agriculture combines Indigenous knowledge, holistic management and cutting-edge science to work within the context of natural systems. It means healthier soils growing healthier foods, stronger local communities, more profitable regional economies, and more resilient environments.” 

Mattias said FARE Idaho is also looking at promoting agritourism, a food freedom bill “that would try to do some level of reducing regulations for cottage food and other small scale food producers,” and issues regarding the right to farm. 

“Across smaller municipalities and counties, we’re seeing a lot of pushback on the right to farm, whether it’s encroaching development pressures (or) new people moving into the communities that aren’t familiar with agriculture and don’t like what they see, smell (or) hear,” Mattias explained. 

The organization said it will continue to monitor potential legislation moving forward and develop policy stands in the best interests of its membership and the local food community overall.