Many people sign up for conferences based on the scheduled sessions and who is talking. Sometimes they are delighted, sometimes they are disappointed, feeling that somehow they didn’t get their money’s worth. I look at conferences from a totally different perspective.
When I decided to change directions and transition from high tech to follow my passion for food, I brought all those years of experience with me. I already knew my way around a conference hall and was accustomed to greeting vast numbers of new people in the course of an evening or over a few days, noting when and where I met them and any conversation we had. I had spent many years standing for hours at a time in high heels on concrete floors. I had learned to survive day after day of being “on”.
I’ve been going to a variety of food conferences for the past six years and the content doesn’t change dramatically from one to the next, so what could I possibly gain and how do I justify the expense? For me, it is all about connections. Once I had learned about the world of blogging, I continued to attend several conferences every year, enjoying reconnecting with friends and getting caught up on each others’ lives. The friendships alone would be worth the price of admission, but if I meet one new person, make a new contact that could lead to work, or meet a person who can connect me to someone who can advance my career, I consider each conference a success.
Of course I appreciate fresh content or sessions that help me understand a certain aspect of the industry, and I am delighted when I discover new tricks, but it is the relationships I make that stand the test of time. Many of those friends that join me for a drink at the bar, that I laugh, trade stories, or share a meal with, have been directly responsible for many of my successes in my new food career. I am so grateful for each and every member of my “tribe”!
My most recent conference was the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC), held last week in Sacramento, California. Not only is Sacramento the state capital, but it is a burgeoning farm-to-fork community dedicated to supporting their local growers. The restaurant chefs strive to use as much local produce as possible, finding new and exciting ways to take advantage of all the beautiful fruits and vegetables growing nearby.
They are able to tap into the greatest growing region in the United States, known as the Central Valley that stretches nearly the length of the state, over 450 miles and encompassing about 22,500 square miles. From Redding in the north to Bakersfield in the south, this area has some of the best soil in the world. This one valley produces about half of all the fruits, vegetables, and nuts grown in the United States. This is the reason that we Californians are so spoiled – we can get fresh produce all year long, most of it grown right in our backyard.
At the opening party, the Taste of Sacramento, we were treated to a delightful array of new-to-many vendors (the conference is often held in the Pacific Northwest, the past four years in Seattle), happy to share information about their products and companies with us. Olives, figs, peaches, pears, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, cheeses, and more were presented in a tantalizing feast for the eyes. There were wines, aperitifs, and ciders to try, sample bites from some of the city’s finest restaurants, and music to keep our toes tapping.
They offered us four optional excursions, giving us a chance to become immersed in the farming communities, meeting locals and finding products many of us will be featuring in recipes in the coming months. When a food person sees such beautiful ingredients we can’t help ourselves, our minds start spinning with ideas of ways to utilize them in new and creative ways.
We learned about the olive and almond businesses, how to butcher lamb, brewing techniques, grow endive and pears, and explore the Clarksburg Wine Country. We returned from these adventures with a better understanding of the challenges faced each day and a deeper appreciation for the efforts that go into providing the products and ingredients we often take for granted.
We ended the conference with a farm-to-fork dinner prepared by the chef and team from the Hyatt Regency Sacramento. Held outdoors under the bower of beautiful arching trees in the balmy early evening, it was a joy to see all of us, nearly 300, seated at long tables, sharing a delicious meal, meeting more new folks, and cementing friendships that will linger long beyond the end of the conference.
If you want to discover the many faces of California and explore all our beautiful areas, contact Visit California for helpful tips and trip planning ideas. Many thanks to the teams from Foodista and ZephyrAdventures for creating another memorable event and providing opportunities for us to grow both personally and professionally. We can’t wait to do it all again next year!
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Note: I was not compensated for this post but did receive a discounted conference fee in exchange for sharing my thoughts. As always, all opinions are my own.
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