Sneak Peek

Season 2, Episode 09

Welcome To The Show! The SEPC Spectacular, Part 1

Growing And Buying Food By The Ton: Farm Tradeshows Come To TV

Two-Part Special Shows A Critical Next-Step In The Supply Chain

ORLANDO, FL There’s a food world out there that few people know anything about. It’s a world where people who grow food by the ton meet up with people who buy it by the ton. Thousands of farmers and hundreds of buyers gather for a few days for a flurry of talking and trading that… well, looks pretty much like any other convention or expo in any other industry. Except there are tons and tons of fresh produce everywhere you look.

Understand, that’s not the produce you’re eating at home or in a restaurant. That’s what the growers bring to represent the best of what they do. That’s how the buyers – who come from retail grocers you know, restaurant chains, hospitals, school systems, hotels, cruise lines, the military and elsewhere – decide where the food that’s ultimately on your plate comes from.

It’s a fast-paced world that’s based as much on networking and friendships as anything. And there’s no better example of it than the Southeast Produce Council Southern Exposure convention and expo, which happens in early March each year, and always in Florida.

In this two-part special of Where The Food Comes From you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at a critical step in the food chain that you likely aren’t even aware exists.

The television show is most often set on farms and in fields, but host and producer Chip Carter points out that without the rest of the supply chain, where the food actually comes from doesn’t matter at all.

“You’ll usually find us with our noses in the dirt,” Carter allows. “But across the scope of the series through 54 episodes, we’ve sometimes left the farm to show people some of the other steps involved in getting them fed. This is one of the most fascinating. I remember my first produce tradeshow 15 years ago. I thought I had landed on another planet – or maybe in the middle of a giant Thanksgiving cornucopia.”

Food tradeshows are about more than showing off the grub. There are educational sessions where attendees learn to grow, market and distribute their products better, forward looks at trends and markets, updates and insights into industry challenges. Guest speakers share their expertise with others. And keynote addresses typically come from well-known names (former University of Florida football star Tim Tebow took the podium at Southern Exposure).

There are also parties galore, golf tournaments, galas and other happenings as attendees looking to find that next great supplier or that next big contract gather to network and celebrate.

But – as is the case with most food and farm shows – the main event is saved for last. The tradeshow unfolds on the final day of Southern Exposure, with almost 300 exhibitors manning booths, ready to show off their best for buyers. It’s a six-hour sprint to the finish; deals – and often fortunes – are made on the spot.

The Southeast Produce Council, headquartered in Millen, GA is one of the nation’s most prominent such organizations and is celebrating 20 years of Southern Exposure. The success of that show has spawned several other regional imitators who are now turning in triumphs of their own.

But no one does it better – which is why Where The Food Comes From chose to tell this story there.

“We like to think we’ve put together a better way for growers and buyers to meet and do business,” said Council Executive Director and President David Sherrod. “We try to make it as appealing as possible – that’s why it’s always in Florida. We know people are tired of winter by late February. A few days in the sunshine sounds pretty good at that point. We work to build always-improving networking and learning opportunities. And we do it all with Southern hospitality and make sure everybody has a great time.”

Where The Food Comes From will take viewers through the whole process, from the Wednesday night opening gala until the tradeshow closes Saturday evening.

So what happens to all those tons of beautiful leftover produce? Not to worry – the charitable Society of St. Andrew has volunteers standing by at show-close to collect and distribute tons and tons of goodness to local foodbanks. And the episode ends with a closer look at just how they do that.




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