Hell's Kitchen Food Fest Blends Job Hunting and Farming Trends

By Mathew Katz on February 9, 2012 12:34pm 

HELL'S KITCHEN — Looking for work never tasted so good.

This year's Just Food conference, set for Feb. 24 and 25, will feature a Good Food Jobs fair, giving job-hunters facetime with potential employers in the food justice and sustainable agriculture fields. 

"The food world is really very large," said Jessica Gaffney, events manager for Just Food, a nonprofit that connects New York neighborhoods to local farmers through Community Supported Agriculture programs.

"There are many different types of jobs, from farmers to people working in restaurants, from people working in food nonprofits to for-profit companies. That's why we're able to do this."

The two-day event at Food and Finance High School, 525 W. 50th St., will also offer its own blend of hybrid activism, mixing farmers, foodies and a federal powerbroker, Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Speakers will focus on food activism, CSAs and the rise of urban farming.

The conference is a combination of several different meet-ups that Just Food has run over the past decade, Gaffney said.

"Over the years, it's just grown organically and it's become so popular," said Gaffney. "We felt like we really had to combine them all into a major conference."

Urban farming in particular has taken off in recent years, with New Yorkers growing veggies on church rooftops, in school playgrounds, and even raising fish in trashcans.

Conference participants will be able to bid on a "Day in the Life" auction, starting Feb. 17. Winners will be able to shadow some of the city's top foodies, including Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy's No. 43, Jake Dickson of Dickson's Farmstand Meats, and pickle king Rick Field, of Rick's Picks.

Friday's "Future in Food" panel has five industry leaders who will talk about how they got their dream jobs, including Top Chef and TV host Andrea Beaman, and Harlem Brewing Company head honcho Celeste Beatty.

In Saturday's keynote speech, Merrigan is expected to discuss her decades of experience in the world of agriculture research and policy, along with new plans to raise awareness of the importance of local food.

Farmers from all over the state will also swing by for a panel to discuss New York's agricultural scene. 

Gaffney said they're expecting roughly 2,000 people at the conference, and tickets are nearly sold out.

Tickets for the conference are $30 for one day or $50 for both days, with discounts available for students, farmers and low-income New Yorkers. Tickets are also available solely for the job fair for $15.

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