Fests and Fundraisers Go local
Here in metro Detroit we certainly have our fair share of fairs, festivals and food-centric fundraisers. But where food-centered events used to be primarily about gathering a bunch of restaurants together and serving the masses (with little regard to what exactly the masses were being served), over the last few years the nature of our local festivals has shifted to be more … well, local.
It probably goes without saying that any food event or festival held around town is going to feature local restaurants (and local art and local musicians and so on). But never before has there been such a strong emphasis on local products. Restaurants are one thing, but restaurants that source produce from local growers and meat from local farms are what people now really want to see. Beer, wine and liquor are standard-issue at any event, but Michigan-made
beer, wine and liquor create a much stronger draw - while instilling a little hometown pride.
The Art of Local
At the Produce Station in Ann Arbor, "local" is a way of life they celebrate every day, and they're celebrating it even more on Sunday, June 24 with "The Art of Local
," a food/music/art event featuring all local vendors and talent.
"We've really been about that ever since we started," says General Manager Andrew Gorsuch … which was in 1986. While Zingerman's was busy sourcing the best of artisan products from around the world, the Produce Station was focused on Michigan. "We're always doing things to promote local food. We find up and coming businesses and promote them," Gorsuch states. Perhaps you've heard of McClure's Pickles
? The Produce Station was one of their first customers.
"The Art of Local" is really just a culmination of everything they already do and care about. "The thought behind this was to put on an interesting event with local artists, local music and to highlight local food producers. We're kind of having a party with our friends and getting people interested in what they're doing!"
Gorsuch notes that they're very fortunate at the Produce Station to have customers that are so engaged in what they're doing with local foods. But the Produce Station is a bit of a different beast: with the built-in customer base that they've worked for decades to educate on local food culture. Other events making the local commitment are potentially making more of a gamble.
, a first-ever event held on June 2 at the Royal Oak Farmers Market, took that gamble. (Full disclosure: I was one of the organizers of this event. Fuller disclosure: I was one of the primary driving forces behind promoting local products.) The bars at Baconfest Michigan were stocked with all Michigan craft beers and wines, Michigan spirits like Valentine Vodka and Michigan-made products like McClure's Pickles Bloody Mary mix and brine. Many of the restaurants (like Toasted Oak Grill & Market in Novi, Grange Kitchen + Bar in Ann Arbor, Terry B's in Dexter and the Root Restaurant in White Lake) butcher, brine, cure and smoke their own Michigan-raised meats (particularly bacon, given the nature of the event). Baconfest also used all Michigan Green Safe Products for cups, napkins etc. - locally-made and environmentally-friendly.
Producer Matthew Peach notes, "People are starting to see the benefits of buying Michigan made products. Not only the obvious taste choices, but the community and financial benefits as well. With so many options for local beer, wine and food, people are starting to question why wouldn't you select Michigan made. It wasn't any more difficult to produce Baconfest with local products then if we selected national brands. We will continue to select and promote Michigan-made products as much as possible."
One of the finer points of Baconfest was the 100% Michigan craft beer selection - including beers from Kuhnhenn Brewing Co., Dragonmead Microbrewery
, North Peak and Jolly Pumpkin. In fact, it seems that when an event really pushes local products, the specific products they're pushing are Michigan craft beers. In a candid conversation with James Rigato, Executive Chef of the Root Restaurant
in White Lake, he commented, "Michigan craft beer is doing more for the food industry here than the food industry."
Just look at the Michigan Brewers Guild's
various beer festivals held throughout the year - the annual Summer Beer Festival in Ypsilanti (the 15th being held this year July 27-28) draws in crowds of over 9,000 people every year. Craft beer culture has spread from there and now is a component of any festival worth its ticket price. The Renaissance Festival held weekends in August and September in Holly has switched over their mead selection to all locally-made meads from B. Nektar Meadery
and also boasts a selection of Michigan craft beers. And it's not just food events … massive music festivals have started taking up the local mantle too.
t, Detroit's electronic music festival (which has consistently ranked on national lists for best music festivals, best summer festivals and best electronic music festivals), drew in over 100,000 over Memorial Day weekend this year, and while most of these people had nothing but techno on the brain, festival producers have started introducing more of that local flavor into their food and beverage offerings. Dana Boyette of Paxahau Event Productions (who produce Movement as well as Detroit Restaurant Week) says, "It's always been a super-macro beer event but last year we had three specialty beers … this year we said, ‘Okay, we need to have local beer and we need to have craft beer.'"
Detroit Beer Company and Frankenmuth Brewing Co. were among the local labels on offer at this year's festival and they also had cocktails made with McClure's mixes, sparkling wine from Michigan's Lawrence Mawby, and food from Slows to Go (in contrast to the usual generic carnival-style vendors). Boyette hopes to keep it growing every year.
"We want to have a bit of the ‘Detroit experience' on-site," he explains, noting that people spend a lot of money to come to the festival and travel from all over the world to get there - they may not have any other opportunity (or the knowledge or wherewithal) to experience local offerings outside of the festival itself. "
DIY Street Fair
Festivals large and small are catching on to the craft beer craze, but back in 2008, craft beer at any food event or festival outside of the Brewers Guild fests was as rare to see as a wolverine in the wild. That is, until Chris Johnston, owner of the Emory and Woodward Avenue Brewery in Ferndale, started the DIY Street Fair
, which is held mid-September every year.
"I wanted to make an event that helped out as many local people as we could and lift everybody up," Johnston says. "There [weren't really any art fairs] that were locally-based. That was the loftiest goal - make it as local as possible and benefit as many local people as possible."
He comments that there are so many great Michigan beers out there "it seemed like a no-brainer to us," but that it was certainly at an expense to make that choice - major macro beer sponsors tend to be quite generous in exchange for festival exclusivity. "But going with smaller breweries, people appreciate that … In the long run it creates more pride in what is going on around here, [the community feels] better about the event, and it helps us all out more."
Non-profit organizations have also caught craft beer fever, at least as far as it goes towards promoting their fundraising efforts and spreading awareness of their organizations to new audiences. BRU Fest, a fundraiser for the Children's Leukemia Foundation of Michigan, just held their second-annual event on June 16.
Jackie McIntosh, Director of Special Events for the CLF, explained, "We are a Michigan charity, not part of a national organization. All of the money raised in Michigan stays in Michigan; it just makes sense to focus on people that are already right here."
When they had the idea to make the event a casual beer, burgers and wings event, they went straight to Bell's Brewery. "With Bell's in the state why look anywhere else? We felt fortunate that they wanted to work with us, too."
The Camp Casey Summer Beer Festival (not to be confused with the Brewers Guild event) will be held this Saturday, June 23 at the Royal Oak Farmers Market. Camp Casey
, a nonprofit horseback riding program for children with cancer, holds a fundraiser every year but this is the first time they've taken the craft beer approach. They'll have beer from over a dozen different Michigan breweries including Short's, Dark Horse and Brewery Vivant, and Ferndale-based Garden Fresh Salsa
will be on hand sampling their own products in addition to local restaurants providing beer-inspired food samples.
Camp Casey Executive Director Molly Reeser states, "The event appeals to craft beer connoisseurs … but we are making sure we're getting Camp Casey's name out there to. The more hop-heads we get the more kids we can serve!"
Nicole Rupersburg is a freelance writer, regular contributor to Metromode and popular Metro Detroit food blogger. Read her blog at http://www.eatitdetroit.com
Photos Courtesy of Bru Fest, BaconFest and Camp Casey