Nearly two dozen of Loudoun’s farmers and producers on Monday tried their hands in a few rounds of “speed dating”—only this iteration of the fast-pace matchmaking event induced business deals rather than romantic relationships.
Visit Loudoun, Loudoun Economic Development and the Virginia Cooperative Extension teamed up to host the second Loudoun Producers Marketplace, which connects local producers and growers with buyers. The event was held at Chefscape in the Village at Leesburg and featured a “speed dating” format for 20 buyers—including restaurants, hotels and catering companies—to move from table to table to talk business with 19 producers that included Blackwater Beef, Catoctin Creamery, Bluemont Vineyard, the Locksley Farmstead Cheese Co. and Veritaz Artizen Chocolate.
Each time a producer struck a deal with a buyer, they would ring a Loudoun County branded cowbell to give the room an audible reminder that the marketplace was more than just a place to learn about new products, but also a venue to conduct business.
Jamie Pantel, the owner and manager of SunPower Farm near Round Hill—which sells free-range lamb, duck, quail and chicken to high-end restaurants—said she set up a booth at the marketplace because of the accessibility it provided her, noting that she’s typically too busy farming and making food to market her products and connect with buyers on such a personal level.
“I think it’s an excellent and very needed venue,” she said. “To connect the chefs who are very busy with the farmers and producers I think is a really wonderful opportunity for both of us.”
Pantel said that she was able to conduct “quite a bit” of business during the event’s two hours of face time with buyers.
Alan Myers, the director of purchasing for The National Conference Center, said that, while he’s been to food shows with “big-time distributors” like Cisco, he’s never been to an event with so many local producers before. During his rounds at the marketplace, Myers met four producers that he said the conference center plans to do business with. “For the most part, I came in here [to see] what’s here, what’s new, what’s cool—just looking for ideas,” he said.
Another marketplace buyer was Hillsboro Mayor Roger Vance, who was looking to find vendors for the town’s six annual events. Vance said that his town is committed to fueling those events with food and beverages that are “100 percent local” and that his time spent talking with producers on Monday was “extremely successful.”
Visit Loudoun President CEO Beth Erickson said the marketplace was a success and that the organizations would take a look at the data they collected to determine how often they should host the event, mentioning that three times a year might be a good number.
“I think any time that we can create an opportunity for small producers to be sold through to our hospitality community is a win,” she said. “Our goal of making connections from a business-to-business standpoint has been met.”