The Philly Farm & Food Fest celebrates the most delicious aspects of our local food system, but it’s not just about having fun and eating tasty food (although we sure love that about it).

One part of our mission is to engage, inspire, and educate eaters by spotlighting local, sustainably minded food producers and their products. The other is to connect these farmers, artisans, and distributors with wholesale buyers like chefs, restaurateurs, and grocers, enabling them to sell more products to a wider audience, grow their businesses, and stay on their land. That means providing a meaningful, educational, and delicious experience to everyone who buys a ticket to PF3. But it also means making sure that the event has value for our exhibitors and presenters year after year: after all, supporting them is the reason we started this event in the first place.

That’s why this summer, the PF3 team reached out to a group of longtime exhibitors to formally involve them in the planning process. Our goal is to make the 2017 event the best yet for everyone who joins us on April 8, and we know that exhibitor feedback and guidance will help us get there. “We’ve been getting ad hoc advice and feedback from our exhibitors for many years, because they’re our constituents for so many of our programs,” said Ann Karlen, Executive Director of Fair Food. Along with Kitchen Table Consultants, nonprofit organization Fair Food co-produces the festival each year. “There’s always been open communication about how the event works for each of them. But this year, we really wanted to formalize that early in the planning process.”

Involving exhibitors allows event organizers not just to have the input of key constituents and longtime supporters, Karlen said, “but also to celebrate their commitment to the event and their contributions to the planning process. Creating value for food producers and processors along the supply chain is really the soul of this event.”

Meet the members of the first official PF3 Advisory Committee! They include small business owners, food hub managers, farmers, cheesemakers, butchers, bloggers, journalists, and more:

Mikey Azzara, founder/owner at Zone 7

Mikey Azzara, founder/owner at Zone 7

Tim Bennett, owner at Bennett Compost

Tim Bennett, owner at Bennett Compost

Mary Bigham, co-founder/owner at The Town Dish

Mary Bigham, co-founder/owner at The Town Dish

Gilda Doganiero, baker/owner at Gilda’s Biscotti

Gilda Doganiero, baker/owner at Gilda’s Biscotti

Amanda Feifer, fermentation author, blogger, and teacher at Phickle

Amanda Feifer, fermentation author, blogger, and teacher at Phickle

Stacey Gentile, communications director at The Farm at Doe Run

Stacey Gentile, communications director at The Farm at Doe Run

Meghan Klotzbach, regulatory manager at Mother Earth Organic Mushrooms

Meghan Klotzbach, regulatory manager at Mother Earth Organic Mushrooms

Paul Lawler, head cheesemaker at Cherry Grove Farm

Paul Lawler, head cheesemaker at Cherry Grove Farm

Gretchen Maser, owner at Christina Maser and Tandi’s Naturals

Gretchen Maser, owner at Christina Maser and Tandi’s Naturals

Kathy Simon, retail and marketing manager at Cherry Grove Farm

Kathy Simon, retail and marketing manager at Cherry Grove Farm

Josh Smith, sales & marketing director at Frecon Farms

Josh Smith, sales and marketing director at Frecon Farms

Heather Thomason, head butcher/owner at Primal Supply Meats

Heather Thomason, head butcher/owner at Primal Supply Meats

Stephanie Whitehouse-Barlow, sales and marketing manager at Peace Tree Farm

Stephanie Whitehouse-Barlow, sales and marketing manager at Peace Tree Farm

I think PF3 is a really important event for Philly. It’s like a party that connects farmers to the people that may not always be able to put a face to the delightful vegetables, eggs or cheese they’re eating,” said fermentation guru Amanda Feifer. “Being a part of the advisory committee gives me a way to make connections between different people and organizations in the Philly food community that are important to me.”

For Mary Bigham of TheTownDish.com, PF3 provides an opportunity for the region to come together around an essential and endlessly inspiring part of life: what we eat and drink.

“Dish was founded on our immense passion for food and drink. We take great pride in being able to tell the stories of the people creating such a remarkable local culinary landscape,” said Bigham. “…Philly Farm Fest showcases these stories and celebrate the same passion shared by chefs, farmers, makers, producers and artisans.”

Other advisory committee members appreciate how PF3 combines consumer and wholesale outreach in one event. The Farm at Doe Run’s Stacey Gentile says that exhibiting at PF3 over the years has helped build wholesale customers for their award-winning cheeses and given them a regular opportunity to share what makes their products special with consumers.

“Educating is a huge part of our jobs as local food producers, and we love that the attendees are really eager to learn more about where their food comes from and how it is produced,” said Gentile.

Other producers have benefitted from the chance to interact in person with customers from in and around Philadelphia. Aside from the opportunity for day-of sales and developing wholesale connections, interacting with thousands of people provides insight into what those consumers want.

“PF3 is a barometer of current trends in food, farming, and gardening, and we use this face-to-face feedback to guide our product selections for the year ahead,” said Stephanie Whitehouse-Barlow of Peace Tree Farm, which grows and sells unique edible and ornamental plants at the event each year.

Heather Thomason, who attended PF3 for the first time in 2016 as the presenter of a whole-hog butchery demonstration, sees great potential for the event to provide opportunities for members of the city’s dining and hospitality industries to connect — not just with new suppliers, but with each other.

“As I made my way around the event, I was drawn in by the opportunity for quality networking,” said Thomason. “I’m excited to see the industry side of the event grow to offer value and connections for members of the local food community.”

Mikey Azzara, who runs locally-focused distributor Zone 7, exhibits at PF3 year after year so that his New Jersey-based food hub can meet new suppliers and wholesale customers. But he also sees the opportunity to advocate for a stronger regional food system together with more than 100 other like-minded businesses and organizations.

Our mission is to strengthen the farm and food economy in the region,” said Azzara. “We are involved so that we can participate in advancing the conversation about the local food system and to stimulate and inspire others into greater action.”

That says it all: Strengthening our food system through education, collaboration, connection and passion is what this event is about. We’re so grateful for all our exhibitors and their feedback, and we feel so honored that these colleagues have committed to helping us plan an amazing PF3 in 2017. Let us know what you’d like to see at our next festival in the comments!