Event Spotlight: Greater Peoria Food Innovation Meetup

PEORIA – The idea of making Peoria a food hub was placed on the table for public consumption last week (July 31).

A food innovation meetup, sponsored by the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council and the newly-formed Peoria Innovation Alliance, drew some 40 people to the Sous Chef market in the city’s Warehouse District.

The GPEDC’s Tory Dahlhoff and Jake Hamann of the Peoria Innovation Alliance, outlined the Peoria area’s potential as a center for a burgeoning end-to-end food ecosystem.

The idea is to create a supply chain to take advantage of the area assets in agriculture and manufacturing, said Dahlhoff, pointing to nearby Mason County, one of the leading counties in the country in the production of specialty crops. Dahlhoff also noted that agriculture was one of the areas of research outlined for the prospective Peoria Innovation Hub, now being planned for the Downtown.

Hamann suggested the group also get involved with efforts to help grow the entrepreneurial community and influence change they’d like to see in the area by completing both the Greater Peoria Entrepreneur Survey and Peoria on Purpose Regional Survey, now available online.

Andy Diaz, the Caterpillar Inc. employee whose Urban Acres project in Peoria’s North Valley is now producing locally-grown produce, was on hand to learn more about food system development.

Photo Courtesy of Raphael Rodolfi  @Videogenique

Photo Courtesy of Raphael Rodolfi @Videogenique

“We have sold out of produce the first two weeks in operation and the demand for what we are offering in our neighborhood is certainly there,” he said of the public market open at the corner of Spring and Monroe at noon on Saturdays this summer.

Matthew Baron, whose company, Gourmet Nuts and Dried Fruit, sells to wholesalers nationwide, said he was happy to learn about plans for a possible food incubator in town.

“The people I met (in Peoria) were marketers and hustling to make their food businesses work. They were people like me,” said Baron, a traveling salesman who moves freely around the country.

“That morning (July 31), I left Iowa City to meet with nut growers and farmers before getting to Peoria,” he said.

Baron, who hails from Philadelphia, said he seeks out America’s smaller cities for his business. “Why Peoria? It’s right between Newark, N.J. and Salt Lake City, Utah. Newark has the largest food port in America and Salt Lake City was the closest I could get to California’s Central Valley where the majority of America’s nuts and fruits are grown,” he said.

Francie Hinrichsen, owner of Simply Integrated in Peoria, was at the meeting with client Brian Anderson of Notionovus. “(Anderson) is forging the path forward to connect growers with end consumers by integrating rapid diagnostics, blockchain and smart technology capabilities,” she said.

We have sold out of produce the first two weeks in operation and the demand for what we are offering in our neighborhood is certainly there
— Andy Diaz, Urban Acres

“We’re on the cusp of seeing the day when consumers will know exactly the health of the food they eat with access transparency never before available—how exciting is that?” asked Hinrichsen.

Dahlhoff and Hamann said a follow-up meeting would soon be organized to expand discussions and to help current and future attendees stay encouraged and connect them with the proper resources to help them succeed.