Partners launching food industry networking group


The Grand Rapids Downtown Market. Photo via

The Grand Rapids Downtown Market is partnering with several organizations on a new endeavor meant to strengthen the region’s food system.

On Jan. 15, the Downtown Market will launch Culinary Conversations, a "peer-to-peer collaboration and networking group" for West Michigan’s food industry professionals, including growers, producers, chefs, bartenders, restaurant owners, entrepreneurs and others.

Each monthly meetup — held in partnership with Grand Rapids-based Start Garden, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women, or GROW, and the MSU Extension — will include networking and educational opportunities.

Panelists for the first session include entrepreneurs from Founders Brewing Co., Green Collar Farms and Amore Trattoria.

“Feeding and nourishing our community is the core function of our food system, and connecting food innovators with experts will help us build a healthy ecosystem,” said Mimi Fritz, president and CEO, Grand Rapids Downtown Market. “A healthy local food system is an excellent economic indicator … that West Michigan is on the right track to becoming self-sufficient to feed everyone who makes this place their home.”

West Michigan has more than 12,200 local farms, hundreds of locally owned restaurants and various food processors, according to the Downtown Market.

“We are passionate about creating a local culture that helps food ideas become successful businesses and create a network for their growth,” said Laurie Supinski, program manager, Start Garden. “In the food and beverage world, creating a culture of entrepreneurship and investing into that culture is extremely important to make sure that local businesses are supported.”

Kelli Smith, business development officer at GROW, added: “We’re seeing more and more diversity in the local food scene and that’s absolutely fantastic, but we want to keep trying for more. We’d love to see more women in leadership and ownership roles in our local food community, and we have the resources to help support that initiative.”

People can find more information and register for the events online.

Culinary Conversations meetups

Creating Your Local Food Network
Jan. 15, 5-7:30 p.m.

The first event is a panel discussion on how community connections and local support led to the panelists’ success in the local food, beverage and agriculture industries. Speakers: John Green, executive chair of Founders Brewing Co. and investor and chair of Revolution Farms; Brian Harris, founder, Green Collar Farms; Jenna Arcidiacono, owner and chef, Amore Trattoria Italiana; and moderator Lisa Knight, director, Urban League Center for Health and Wellness.

Generation Yum
Feb. 20, 5:30-7 p.m.

Speaker Eve Turow Paul is a researcher and writer about food culture and how 21st-century innovations and pressures are re-shaping the human food experience, most evident among millennials and Generation Z. Author of “A Taste of Generation Yum: How the Millennial Generation’s Love for Organic Fare, Celebrity Chefs, and Microbrews Will Make or Break the Future of Food,” Turow Paul has consulted with the Google Food Lab, Culinary Institute of America, SXSW and others.

Food System Disparities
April 5, time TBD

Chef Tunde Wey is an author and social justice activist born in Nigeria who immigrated to Detroit as a teenager and is now based in New Orleans. He is a co-owner of (revolver) in Hamtramck, a community table restaurant where a revolving lineup of chefs serve locally sourced, communal menus in the style of traditional French guesthouses. The event will be a dinner discussion exploring “the history behind racial wealth and health disparities” and how people can “change systems of oppression.”

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