The Downtown Boise Association mixed in a food theme to its annual meeting Wednesday.
The event had a two-fold focus: dining in the city’s core – and the way downtown serves as a catalyst for the region.
Speakers and panelists throughout the afternoon came both from Boise’s restaurants, but more broadly from the state’s agriculture industry.
The link between Idaho’s urban and rural areas
“Boise might be the only urban area in the United States that would think to invite the Department of Agriculture to their annual program,” Celia Gould with the Idaho Department of Agriculture said. “But that’s part of your success: providing links throughout the state.”
Gould noted how many of the meals served in the city’s restaurants focus on local ingredients. She said the work of Idaho’s agricultural industry is meaningful, and the downtown economy and agriculture industry are intertwined.
“Idaho’s legacy was built on the hard-working farmers and ranchers in our state,” she said. “Agriculture brings us all together – whether it’s a family event or a great night out. What better to unite us than food?”
Boise mayor Dave Bieter lamented recent headlines about friction between Boise and other parts of the state.
“Urban areas seem pitted against rural areas,” he said. “And that’s unfortunate. We love our rural areas and depend on our rural areas. We have their legacy to thank for the vibrancy of our cities – and downtown in particular.”
Angela Taylor of Indulge Boise Food Tours led a panel discussion the growing Boise food scene. Taylor grew up in Mountain Home, before leaving the state to attend Stanford University. She lettered on the school’s varisty basketball team and went on to manage the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA.
“I’ve been away 30 years – but I grew to appreciate Downtown Boise through its food,” Taylor said. “I could never have imagined we’d have this thriving culinary scene in Downtown Boise 30 years ago. When I returned, I had to figure out how to tell the story.”
She built a business on telling the story of Downtown Boise’s food scene.
“There are so many different restaurants that are emerging here in Downtown Boise,” she said. “It’s not just about the food, it’s about the connections – it’s about the collaboration that is happening in Downtown Boise.”
Robin Kelley of Kelley’s Canyon Orchard in Filer encouraged consumers to take an active role in asking about their food. She said dining out can both drive Boise’s economy, but help the entire region.
“Ask your food providers: Where’d you get it from, how’d you get it? Invest in places that invest in local,” Kelley said. “Find out where they’re getting their products. Use your brains, use your method of query to understand what’s in season in Idaho. If you’re going to Costco, peaches and cherries aren’t in season people!”
She said the definition of “eating local” is food that comes within 100 miles.
“Within a hundred miles you can get to a lot of places and eat local,” she said. “Think about what you can get within a hundred miles.”
Boise’s success driving interest
DBA executive director Lynn Hightower said she added a virtual “part time job” last summer: giving tours of Downtown Boise to leaders from other parts of the country.
“This last summer the number of these visiting groups exploded,” Hightower said. “They came here and wined and dined and took notes. Even though every group was a little bit different, they came for one reason: they want what we have.”
She said Boise’s beauty is a big factor – but it goes more than skin deep.
“It’s less the skyline, and more the sidewalks,” Hightower said. “They want that cool factor that drives business and builds revenue. It benefits businesses miles from our downtown core.”
Hightower challenged those who attended the event: if they want to keep what Downtown Boise has, they need to support it.
“It isn’t just growth for growth’s sake, but about building a sustainable, livable Boise. It may be changing the way we talk about Downtown Boise.” She said the Downtown area “helps enable and grow our entire community.”