A beginning farmer, a BBQ sauce maker, and a food chain transparency technology programmer walk into a grocery store… This sounds like the start to a bad joke, but in reality it was the beginning of our effort to discover the world of food entrepreneurs and innovators of Greater Peoria. Toss in two dozen more people—representing a mix of businesses and resource providers—and you have the Greater Peoria Food Innovation Meetup, held this past July at Sous Chef, an innovative grocery store startup in Peoria’s Warehouse District.
Networking Food Entrepreneurs
Around 30 food-focused entrepreneurs and innovators showed up for this inaugural event organized by the Greater Peoria EDC and the Peoria Innovation Alliance. This meetup, slated as a quarterly event, is part of the effort to add more assets to the region’s startup ecosystem—such as makerspaces, commercial kitchens and farm incubators—that might better serve the needs of farm and food entrepreneurs.
By bringing these people together, we are working to identify what gaps need filling to improve research and development, and to sustainably scale farm and food systems, technologies and businesses. We also believe in the value of gathering these entrepreneurs so they can network and put together the ingredients for a robust food economy in Greater Peoria.
The Food Innovation Meetup is but one piece of the work at the Greater Peoria EDC and numerous regional partners—many of whom also participate in the Regional Fresh Food Council—to better understand how a well-developed regional food system can drive both rural and urban community and economic development. From farm production and value-adding, to aggregation, wholesale distribution and retail, to waste recovery and food-based healthcare initiatives, a well-designed regional food system has the power to improve the health and sustainability of our economy, our natural resources and our people.
Leading A Sustainable Future
Why should we consider food innovation important to our region’s economy? Why not? Traditionally, we box our region into a few distinct industry sectors: manufacturing, healthcare and agriculture. But when you step back and look at where those industries intersect, you begin to see our potential as a place where food and farm innovation can take root and lead us into the future.
We have everything that is needed to develop a robust food supply chain: plenty of fertile agricultural land, manufacturing capabilities (for both producing and processing food), expertise in logistics, and the ability to translate more regional food production into a system that feeds people well while creating jobs at the same time. Layer those capabilities with the work of our region’s farm and food technology, product and systems innovators, and it makes sense that we can lead the agriculture and food industries into a sustainable future. We are capable of building a scalable regional food economy that generates wealth for our communities.
We look forward to continuing our work to support an emerging regional food value chain, help food and farm entrepreneurs connect with (and source from) each other, improve the sustainability and accessibility of our food system, and help the future food industry take root in our region. If we all work together in this effort, we can make Greater Peoria a national hub for farm and food innovation. The next Food Innovators Meetup is scheduled for December 11. Stay tuned for details to be announced at meetup.com/Greater-Peoria-Food-Innovation. PM