A conference aimed at taking the local food movement beyond farmers’ markets and specialty restaurants is bringing together national leaders in the field with Western New York’s farmers, chefs, artisan food producers and food buyers at the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute.

The “Connections Conference,” formerly called the Farmer-Chef Conference, will take place Feb. 24 and 25. The first day, Sunday, is geared toward the general public; the Monday program is more focused on players in the food community.

“What we’ve set out to do is engage farmers, chefs and food buyers, and create an economic driver here,” said organizer Lisa Tucker, co-founder of the Field & Fork Network. “The underlying theme has been to be a catalyst to build a regional food system. We’re really trying to engage all of those movable parts.”

One of the keynote speakers is Dr. Oran Hesterman, author of “Fair Food: Growing a Healthy and Sustainable Food System,” and a nationally recognized expert in sustainable agriculture. He helped establish Michigan’s food policy council. He is scheduled to speak at 11:15 a.m. Sunday.

Hesterman plans to share experiences in projects around the country that help farmers and provide lower-income families with access to affordable, healthy food.

In Detroit, for instance, he has helped start a program called “Double Up Food Bucks” in which people can get double the value of their food stamps when buying fresh produce.

“If we can capture a portion of that economy to support local farming, local food businesses and a healthier diet for low income kids, it’s a win-win-win,” Hesterman said.

At the conference, workshops will be offered in an array of topics; there will be demonstrations on cheesemaking and bread baking, and discussions about shaping food policy and the roles of food co-ops.

Among those leading workshops Monday will be Jim Adkins of the North Carolina-based Sustainable Poultry Network, who teaches small farmers how to raise heritage-breed chickens.

“The big thing I’m going to be teaching is giving people a very clear picture of an industry bird versus a standard bred bird,” Adkins said.

Registration fee is $95 for one day and $150 for both days; go to