Jennifer went last year with her beautiful Heather, and this year, we braved I-75 to make it to the fair. Jennifer helped the group start their fair last year, and it is closely modeled after her awesome fall Vendor fair in Atlanta. And I could really see the similarities.
I had a tremendous time at the fair, first, because I felt like I was surrounded by gluten-free friends. It's gotten to the point that I now know a lot of the vendors, either in person or by email or Twitter. For instance Shelley Ritchie, the beautiful baker behind Moondance Heavenly Desserts, have exchanged phone calls and emails for a long time, but we finally met in person this weekend! And we knew each other on sight. And Leah McGrath, the Ingles Supermarket Dietician, was also there -- I met her at Jennifer's Vendor Fair last fall. I thought it was funny that while she didn't remember me, she remembered the products I approached her about there.
There was something about the folks at the fair -- they seemed to be literally STARVING for information about gluten-free foods and products. And this seemed to transcend to the products they sampled. Unlike the Atlanta show, food at this show was all but gone by a little after 2 p.m. Jennifer and Lori saw their samples disappear in a little more than two hours! My little stress balls were gone in about an hour and a half, and my friend Sandy's bread samples were gone. The lines snaked down the hall and around the tables, and we barely had time for a break from 11 a.m. til close.
As part of this, though, I was a little bit taken aback. I think the Vendors were really generous at the fair, in that some people left with four and five bags full of samples. I know I always leave the Atlanta fair with lots of samples, but all of them come at the end of the day, when the vendors all trade products and the volunteers are rewarded with samples for working. I met two woman in the elevator who each had three bags of goodies. I asked which one of them was gluten-free, and they admitted they were there with a friend to help her get samples. Maybe this is a sign of the need for more gluten-free goodies in Knoxville -- and maybe, for that reason, it's a GREAT reason to have this great vendor fair.
When it was over, all of us got samples from various vendors to bring home, too. I won two door prizes near the end, and I gave almost all of both to the woman who helped staff the nearby Udi's booth with Sandy. (I did snag a nifty Bob's Red Mill bag! and some cornbread mix). She had an adorable gluten-free son, and he was so sweet -- he hugged my neck when I gave him one of Shelley's chocolate chip GF cheesecakes! They went home with bread mix, flour, quinoa, steel cut oats, two kinds of brownie mixes, and two Udi's blueberry muffins -- all that was left).
One thing here felt especially strange to me -- I didn't see or sample a national product I'd not seen or sampled before. Because there were FIVE grocery store chains represented, their was a broad assortment of things I'm used to seeing on the shelves. But I was pleased to see this as well, since three of the grocery chains are national, mainstream chains (two of them in my vicinity!)
I just wanted to tip my hat to the folks in Knoxville for this event. I had fun. I learned a lot. And most of all, I left with new gluten-free friends. It was a winner all around.