Zhao Lim / The Badger Herald

A new expo is looking to bring together local growers and buyers to strengthen the market for local food in Dane County this month, officials announced Monday.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced in a statement that an expo will be organized Sept. 20 so local growers can meet buyers who are interested in locally grown foods.

Local food is not just produce, according to the statement from the Dane County Executive’s Office. Makers of Wisconsin bakery, meat, cheese and desserts will have a chance to show bigger institutions, like hospitals and schools, their goods.

More and more consumers are demanding local food – an economic trend the expo is looking to advance, said Olivia Parry, senior economic developer specialist at the Institutional Food Market, which is one of the groups working to coordinate the event.

Parry said while there will be speakers to provide an educational component to the expo, it is ultimately a giant business meeting for buyers and sellers to have a chance to network on a scale they could not organize by themselves.

“There’s a huge demand for local [food]. [It’s] a brand for Wisconsin and Dane County,” Parry said.

Parry said IFM also works with the University of Wisconsin and the UW System.

Eating food from local sources is a student issue on the Madison campus. UW Slow Food is one local food effort on campus, which ties issues of social justice to the production and consumption of local food, according to the group’s website.

While budgets are being cut at the national, city and state level, the industry is growing, Parry said, and businesses are recognizing that consumers will buy those products. Local food does not just benefit the local growers, but rather puts money back into the economy.

As for local food in Dane County, Madison is the center of concentric circles, said Miriam Grunes, executive director of the local Research, Education, Action and Policy on Food Group.

Grunes said her group has seen an increase in support for local food in the last few years. She said the group has established connections similar to those the expo is looking to foster: school programs as well as restaurants who will support local food to meet customers’ demands.

Often when people talk about local food, they use the phrase “local” and “whole” food interchangeably, she said. “Whole” food refers to food in its original state, without additives or preservatives.

“Local” food is merely geographic, she said, but both words have become synonymous with eating locally and eating well.

Local foods eliminate the distance from “farm to plate” and are generally healthier, Parry said.

Local growers can come and show off their products and listen to speakers talk about local food. According to a statement on the event, Parisi will be one of the speakers at the event, as well as speakers from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism and the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau.