By Tina Dirmann

BCBSLA Foundation Staff Writer

We were there that first year, when our friends with the Central Louisiana Local Foods Initiative (supported by Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana Challenge grant funds) launched Foodapalooza in Alexandria. The one day event was a simple celebration of all things foodie and local, highlighting the growing, selling and consumption of local produce.

February 26 marked the beginning of Foodapalooza 2015, now in its third year and stretching over two days, including a series of guest speakers, special interest workshops, gardening/farming field trips, and even healthy cooking tips from local

restauranteur Gary Perkins (owner of Wildwood Pizza in Alexandria).

About 80 locals turned out for this year’s events. But, according to John Dean, one of Foodapalooza’s organizers and a leader in our Central Louisiana Local Foods Initiative movement, the difference isn’t just the size of the crowd, it’s the enthusiasm of that crowd.

“The first two years, a lot of people were there,” said Dean, who also works for the Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. “But maybe just because they were curious, they were interested in the name of our event, but that’s it. But now, you can really feel how the people are engaged and more involved. You can feel how much they want this.”

He also noted the addition of fun special interest workshops, like “Sipping Your Own Suds: an introduction to home brewing,” alongside some of the more traditional, practical classes, like “Profitable Planting for Markets.”

The keynote presentation was made by Kathlyn Terry, who spoke about her work with

the Appalachian Sustainable Development project, describing how a Virginia-based food hub pumped millions into their economy by bolstering the production and sale of local foods.

Noted Allison Tohme, one of our Challenge Grant project managers with Pennington Biomedical Research Center, “The Local Foods Initiative team does a great job planning this event, which has gotten better every year.  The speakers were engaging – openly sharing the ups and downs of their experiences while also taking into account that Central Louisiana has its own opportunities and nuances.”

Lydia Martin, strategic initiatives manager for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation, also attended the event and was quick to point out how much stronger this year’s event came off.

“It just went really well,” Martin said. “It’s another great success for them. This team just kicks it up a notch every year. The sessions get better, the speakers are great. It’s been a privilege to watch this community event grow and become the success it is today.”

For more information on the local foods movement in Central Louisiana, go to the fresh central website.

In addition to the support of BCBSLAF, Foodapalooza was also generously sponsored by CLEDA and The Rapides Foundation.

So will we see yet another Foodapalooza next year?

“Count on it,” Dean said. “I think this is now an annual event for us.”