AZ Food & Farm Finance Forum

By: Jessica Swarner @jessica_swarner  

June 8th, 2017

On May 18 and 19, the USDA and Local First Arizona partnered to sponsor the Arizona Food & Farm Finance Forum at the University of Arizona.

Through a day and a half of keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and networking time, the conference organizers said they aimed to bring together the state’s food workers and foster connections.

Here are some of the conference attendees:

Emma Zimmerman, Hayden Flour Mills

On using Instagram for marketing:

“Everything we do has an app…[Instagram is a] really great business tool. Really fun as well.”

 “People love to see the process and the people behind the product, so I think, you know, advertising has gone from a very controlled ad on TV or in a magazine to now we can tell all these stories all the time, especially for local food. What sets us apart is how it’s made and where it comes from, how responsible you made it. So this is a really great free tool for us to tell our story and control our brand’s message.”

James Lerner, publisher and editorial director of Tucson Restaurant Manager Magazine

On his new magazine:

“We’re recruiting experts in a variety of business-related fields – certainly local sources, for restaurants, so that’s one of the reasons I came here to this event. There will also be human resources, finance, safety and a whole bunch of other essential business disciplines. So this has got to be the backbone of the magazine – the profiles will be cool and fun to talk about how this guy or woman got to the place where they’re at, you know, what’s the secret to their success. But more importantly – should I put digital signs in my restaurant or not? How much is it going to cost me, and how am I going to manage it?”


Paula Schlusberg, core team member of Sustainable Tucson

On her biggest takeaway from the first day of the conference:

“Just how difficult it is for the people on the ground – I have the luxury of being more of the consumer side of things, and advocacy. It’s a tough life, so we need to really support our local farmers.”

Elena Makansi, Social Media Manager of FoodInRoot

“I heard a lot of people talking about two things – one is revitalizing the economy and dealing with money issues and lack of capital and struggling to find ways to connect those who have money with those who don’t have money, and the core issue that the people who work in the food industry tend to be very much on the have-not side. Second, the issue of mental health and wellness and the struggle of working in a system that’s set up against you can be really taxing on your personal life and your professional life.”

Jessica Marquardt, CEO of reNature

“This happens every time I get together with people interested in agricultural sustainability development and global food. I think I am continually awed and amazed by how many different aspects there are to really building a sustainable local food community and how people are thinking about it, and opportunities for partnership. I’m part of a startup, and I run into a lot of other startups throughout life, talking about data management to drones in agriculture to the ‘high-tech’ side of innovation and that’s part of the equation, but a lot of the people I’ve been talking to here are really getting into the community and interviewing people, talking about what’s keeping you from buying local, what’s keeping you from growing your own food and addressing the people problems, and that’s really important for me as someone thinking and trying to create a business that promotes sustainable local food.”

Ethan Soloviev, EVP of Research for HowGood, Inc.  

On the HowGood Inc. app and rating process:

“So this map is designed to invite farmers and consumers and everyone to understand the breadth of what’s possible – not necessarily to judge or critique, but more to say well, where are we now? And where can we go? What is the potential of regeneration that we can get to by taking that next step, or by jumping 10 steps ahead? So we get to see the whole food system in the United States, and I wish I could say that most of the food was down here [in the highly rated categories], but it’s not…85 percent of the products we rate in the United States are still on this end of the spectrum [where none of the standards are met].”

Jessica Swarner is a contributing writer for The Sustainability Review and is currently a student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.