KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The local food movement is certainly eating well in the nation’s heartland.

More than 300 people from in and around the Kansas City metro gathered Aug. 28 for Food Now, a gala that brought local producers, food distributors, buyers and local food enthusiasts together for dinner and fundraising.

Event celebrates local food in Kansas City

Chuck Robinson

A rooftop cocktail hour precedes dinner made with locally sourced produce, meat, bread and wine at Food Now Aug. 28 in Kansas City. The event raised money for three food and agriculture organizations in the city.

Among the attendees and sponsors were representatives from Sysco Kansas City, retail wholesaler and operator Balls Foods, and Good Natured Family Farms, a network of more than 150 farms within 200 miles of Kansas City that are working to supply the city’s grocery stores and restaurants.

The event raised money for the Greater Kansas City Food Policy Coalition, the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture and Kansas City Community Gardens through donations for sponsoring a table or buying a seat, as well as both a silent and a live auction for items including private dinners from local chefs.

Otavio Silva, sustainability director for Good Natured Family Farm and administrator of its Buy Fresh Buy Local marketing program, said the local food movement’s consumer demand was evidenced by the turnout at the first such event, as well as the growth of local production programs like the one he’s involved in.

“As people are looking more for different options for their health, diet and so on, they understand that the local family farms might be an option for them,” Silva said. “It’s always a Catch-22, you know — if you grow, they will come — but sometimes it doesn’t happen like that. For the local growers it’s always important that you have a market that’s somewhat guaranteed so that they can plan their harvest and then they can supply that local food.”

Balls Foods, which operates 29 stores in and around Kansas City under the Hen House and Price Chopper banners, has seen exponential growth in its local programs the past few years, said Bill Esch, director of marketing and advertising.

“It’s probably become the total emphasis of our total marketing effort,” Esch said. “Each year we work with both local and state agriculture departments, and we actually go out and secure local farmers and ranchers based on local needs. It’s our top branding message. When we go to events, that’s what we’re known for.”

Balls Foods operates as a hub for Good Natured Family Farms, sending refrigerated trucks to small, local farms to act as mobile cold storage and selling local produce to Sysco, Liberty Fruit and other area wholesalers and suppliers out of its warehouse.