March 14, 2016; Fresno Bee

This week, the Fresno Food Expo announced that it would host its sixth annual event as a newly formed nonprofit organization. The Expo, which began in 2011, originated as a way to develop the local economy and is now one of the leading regional food festivals in the United States.

Moving the event’s operations out of the city government and into nonprofit status was a goal of the Expo from its inception. This change will allow the Expo to continue to grow and flourish under the direction of a 13-member board of directors, which is made up of representatives from the local food industry. Fresno’s mayor, Ashley Swearengin, serves as board chair.

The mission of this new organization is to continue to drive revenues for the central California food and beverage industry, and provide a way for regional food industry leaders to build and maintain business relationships. The organization will continue to work on establishing an identity for the area’s food production and food experiences.

This may be part of a slowly emerging trend. The Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival became the Austin Food and Wine Alliance in 2012. With a mission focused on raising awareness of Central Texas cuisine, the Alliance also provides grants to nurture culinary innovations that also give back to the local community. Past projects to receive grant funding were:

  • Two Hives Honey, to produce neighborhood generated honey, which would then be offered to local restaurants. The proposal also included plans to develop a pollinator education program.
  • New Farm Institute at Green Gate Farm, to reach more people through its Multicultural Refugee Coalition (MRC) and to improve its farm-to-table program for culinary students.
  • Skinny Lane Farm, to create a cooking program that highlights locally produced food and promotes healthy eating.

Other food festivals may consider this route in the future, though each would need to determine how to focus its efforts. While both the Fresno and Austin organizations are designated as nonprofit, the Fresno Food Expo is a 501(c)(6) while the Austin Food and Wine Alliance has the more traditional 501(c)(3) designation. Organizations with 501(c)(6) status are focused on supporting a particular industry’s needs. In the case of the Fresno Food Expo, the particular industry is the regional food and beverage industry. And, 501(c)(6) organizations rely on member dues, as they are unable to offer a tax deduction to donors. However, regardless of the kind of nonprofit status, the Fresno and Austin food events, and many others across the country, have similar goals: preserve and enrich local food business and identity.—Kelley Malcolm