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These Idaho field-to-fork advocates are in D.C. this week. Here's why

FARE Idaho has been invited to present at the USDA National Agricultural Marketing Summit.
FARE Idaho
FARE Idaho has been invited to present at the USDA National Agricultural Marketing Summit.

FARE is an acronym for Food Agriculture Restaurants and Establishments. The nonprofit trade association advocates for Idaho farmers, ranchers, food and beverage producers, plus independent restaurants, bars and grocers.

“I think it's really critical to not only know where your food comes from, but also be connected to the people that are working in the fields. or washing our dishes, long after we've gone home,” said Katie Baker, FARE Idaho executive director. “I think that people want that connection to not only where their food comes from, but the humans behind it.”

Baker visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about why FARE Idaho has been invited to the nation’s capital to talk about their advocacy for 400-plus growers and producers across the Gem State.

Read the full transcript below:

KATIE BAKER: Morning. Thanks so much for having me.

GEORGE PRENTICE: So, you are in the nation's capital this week. Tell us what's happening.

BAKER: Yeah. FARE Idaho is doing a one-hour presentation this morning at the National Agricultural Market Marketing Summit in Washington, D.C., and we're excited to be here.

PRENTICE: So, what will be a part of that presentation? Can you paint a word picture for us?

BAKER: Yeah. So, we will be discussing the organization and particularly the structure of our organization because it is unique.

PRENTICE: So unique… in that you are quite possibly the first nonprofit trade association in the nation representing members in the local food system. Is that correct?

BAKER: Yes.

PRENTICE: So, who are your members?

BAKER: FARE Idaho is an acronym; and it stands for Food, Agriculture, Restaurants and Establishments. We are a nonprofit trade association, like you mentioned, structured around the local food system. So, a part of our organization and our membership includes farmers, ranchers, food and beverage producers, independent restaurants, bars and grocers.

PRENTICE: So, do you then advocate for them in the marketplace?

BAKER: So, what we do is we advocate on behalf of our members, and it can really range the gamut. Our members, we have now about 425 members across Idaho, and we advocate on their behalf. And oftentimes our members come to us with their needs. And it could look like. Saving farmland, liquor license legislation. Or it could be small issues that maybe they're facing in their neighborhood. So, they come to us and we also advocate. In terms of finding membership benefits and trying to… really…find discounts. Save them money. Allow them to attract and retain staff as well. So, we have health care programs, a part of Fair Idaho and other things that we work on.

PRENTICE: So, what's trending? What are you noticing in 2023, as far as needs that may be more common than not among your members?

BAKER: Well, definitely…outside of advocacy, in terms of the legislation, I've noticed that employers are really still struggling with staffing shortages. So, that's why we decided to launch a health care program where we have nurse practitioners here in the Treasure Valley. We're trying to get them more, across the state as well. But health care seems to be a big issue for a lot of our members, because if you think about it, typically in the service industry or restaurants, maybe three, four years ago, they didn't necessarily offer health insurance, but now there's a real demand from from staff to have those benefits available to them.

PRENTICE: As small as some of these organizations may be…aren’t they still the backbone of our economy?

BAKER: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, they're the cornerstones of our communities. If you think about going to an independent restaurant or just eating out or going to any establishments… and then this is really where our food comes from. So, I think it's critical that we honor and support those that are doing the work to feed our nation and our state.

PRENTICE: And from a consumer perspective, I'm assuming that a fair amount of us want to lean into this. So, the charge to you then is telling their story, right?

BAKER: Absolutely. I think it's really critical to not only know where your food comes from, but to also be connected to the people that are working in the fields or washing our dishes long after we've gone home. I think that people want that connection to not only where their food comes from, but the humans behind it.

PRENTICE: How have you grown? Has it been organic? Word of mouth?

BAKER: I would say that it's mostly been word of mouth. We do reach out sometimes to individuals. If we're dealing on certain advocacy topics that are relevant to their industry, they become a part of it. But I think really, word of mouth has been the most instrumental in terms of our growth.

PRENTICE: How did this week happen for you to be in front of the US Department of AG?

BAKER: Well, it initially started because we received a USDA grant. We're we just received the Farmers Market Promotion Program grant. And then also we are a part of the Regional Food Business center here in Idaho. Fair Idaho is actually the co-lead in partnership with the University of Idaho. So, we're traveling with that grant.

PRENTICE: Well, your biggest event of the year is coming up, right? It's soon… in the new year?

BAKER: Yes. In January, we host a large field-to-fork event at the jump center. We take over the entire building. That's a really great way for the community. Everyday consumers, farmers, chefs, everybody within the food system to really or if you just support the food system to come down and join us at jump. And we have 80 trade boosts this year. So, it's a little bit larger than it was last year. And then we also have industry discussions. We talk about health insurance. We're doing chef led classes that are open to the public. It's first come first serve in the jump shared kitchen. We have five classes this year. And then we also have panel discussions linking the food system. So we really talk about the food system. What surprised me in particular about last year is that the chef led classes and the panel discussions were standing room only. So I think it's really. It was really heartening to see that so many supported the food system and that wanted to be a part of it and learn more.

PRENTICE: What really surprised me this past year was most of us think of a trade show and… we're curious…it's the other side of the fence for us. It's inside the industry, if you will. But I was surprised at how many people walked through the doors and it was…a trade show that instantly became public, especially with those chef demonstrations.

BAKER: And I think why we put on this event in the first place is that we really want to build community not only within the industry. So, get independent restaurant owners together where oftentimes they don't, or livestock processors where they oftentimes don't meet in person. S,o our goal was really like to create community within the industries and then the community at large to attend and be able to celebrate. Idaho food and beverage.

PRENTICE: Where is your presentation today in D.C.?

BAKER: So we are at the Crystal City Marriott at Reagan International Airport.

PRENTICE: Well, great good luck with that. And kudos to you and your team to be in the spotlight this morning.

BAKER: You know, because we are the first nonprofit of our kind that we've been able to identify, I think that we're seeing the importance of really treating it as a food system that oftentimes we can be siloed, whether that just be farmers or independent restaurants. But it's I have seen the power of working together and supporting each other through our efforts.

PRENTICE: Good luck in the nation's capital today. And thanks for giving us some time this morning.

BAKER: Thank you so much for having me.

Find reporter George Prentice on X @georgepren

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