The Rapidian

Culinary Conversations series returns Sept. 11 with focus on sourcing locally

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Food industry leaders and startup founders to speak about local sourcing from healthcare, grocery, farm, distributor and startup perspectives


Link to register for the event is online at:

The Grand Rapids Downtown Market’s speaker series focused on the West Michigan food industry returns on September 11 at 5:00 p.m. at West Michigan Farmlink, 1111 Godfrey Ave SW, Grand Rapids, with an emphasis on “Sourcing Locally.” The free event features five local farm and food industry mavens from the startup and corporate world, discussing the idea of local sourcing, including increasing profitability through seasonal ingredients, as well as distribution channels and farm direct. 

Speakers for “Sourcing Locally” include Gerard Adams, FarmLink founder; Ken Bair, manager of Bridge Street Market; Ben Kaeb, co-owner of Heidi’s Farmstand; Zenobia Taylor-Weiss, owner of Cellar Door Preserves; and Kevin Vos, senior director of Hospitality Support Services for Spectrum Health. Amy Sherman, founder of the West Michigan Slow Food Chapter, host of "The Great American Brew Trail" and "Behind the Mitten," and statewide MLive reporter for the Michigan's Best team, will moderate.

“Recent studies show that buying local is now more important than other factors like organic and non-GMO to many people, which shows a consumer mindset shift important for West Michigan food businesses to consider,” said Mimi Fritz, president and CEO of the Downtown Market. “Supporting and helping local businesses grow is central to our mission, which means bringing people together who can advocate for local sourcing for food service, restaurants and families.” 

Culinary Conversations is a peer-to-peer collaboration and networking group for West Michigan’s food industry professionals, including growers, producers, chefs, bartenders, restaurant owners, entrepreneurs and others, intended to strengthen Grand Rapids’ regional food system. Led by the Downtown Market, Culinary Conversations is a unique partnership between Start Garden, GROW and Michigan State University Extension. Each Meetup includes networking and educational opportunities. 

“Michiganders have so much pride in our state, and love to show that support by purchasing local whenever they can – especially when it comes to food and drinks, as we’ve learned over at MLive with Michigan’s Best,” said Amy Sherman, moderator. “During this discussion, we’re really going to dive into consumer preferences and how restaurants, breweries and food producers can source locally and communicate that to their customers in an organic way.”

Link to register for the event is online at: Sponsors for the event include Start Garden, Bridge Street Market, Brewery Vivant and Michigan Good Food Fund.

Panelist bios:

Jerry founded FarmLink after starting West MI Co-Op, one of the first online farmers markets in the country twenty years ago. FarmLink now connects almost a hundred local farmers and producers with restaurants, commercial food establishments and households in West Michigan.

Ken Bair started in the grocery business in Hesperia, California at Albertsons in 1991 as a bagger, becoming a store manager at the young age of 25. From there, Ken took on more responsibility in regional roles and then on to marketing and merchandising in Chicago for Jewel-Osco, and then as Director of Grocery for A&P in the New Jersey area. Before taking on his current role of store manager for Bridge Street Market, he was Director of Operations for a family owned company in Northwest Indiana called Strack and Van Til.

Ben is a vegetable grower from Lowell with 12 years experience running field and greenhouse operations at Heidi’s Farmstand.  A hydroponic greenhouse and open field grower, Ben pushes the edges of the growing season to keep a variety of high-quality, local vegetables available to Grand Rapids consumers. Ben is an entomologist and agronomist, motivated by meeting challenges and opportunities of growing in and for West Michigan

Zenobia started canning as a way to eat local and support farmers, and this practical habit turned into a passion culminating in her business Cellar Door Preserves. In addition to making artisan preserves Zenobia teaches canning and cooking classes in Grand Rapids and throughout the country.

Kevin Vos is the Senior Director of Hospitality Support Services for Spectrum Health Delivery System. He is responsible for the strategic planning as well as the oversight of high quality patient and guest services functions across Spectrum’s nationally awarded integrated health system. Whether Kevin is concentrating on disrupting the typical “institutional” food chain or coming up with unique solutions to help change nutritional behavioral, his goal is to improve the health of the community through nourishment, education and wellness.

Amy Sherman has over 20 years of experience as a chef in the Grand Rapids area, was a founder of the West Michigan Slow Food Chapter, and was host of the television show "The Great American Brew Trail" and the radio show "Behind the Mitten." She currently works at MLive as a statewide reporter on the Michigan's Best team.

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