SALT LAKE CITY — As many Utahns celebrate Pioneer Day next week, members of Congress and their staff in Washington will have the opportunity to sample a number of Beehive State foods at a Flavors of Utah celebration.
Dave Davis, president of the Utah Food Industry Association, said the occasion was Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee's "brainchild."
"It started many, many years ago with (Lee), a couple of interns and a bucket of homemade root beer" Davis said, noting that Lee wanted to share Utah's Pioneer Day celebration with his colleagues in Washington and invited them to his office to partake in the batch of intern-brewed root beer.
"Now its developed into this great celebration. I like to call it the biggest Pioneer Day celebration east of the Mississippi," he said during the send-off for the goodies on Friday.
A semitractor-trailer — which was slated to leave shortly after Friday's noon event — will travel for about 30 hours to the nation's capital to deliver a spread of local products.
Attendees at Friday's event were also able to sample the Utah products at a vendors display table.
"It's really nice to be recognized for the work that we do and the passion that we have to create our products that people really enjoy," said Sandra Weese, who co-owns Pepperlane Jellies with her husband, Rod Weese.
Grant Kohler, owner of Heber Valley Cheese, agreed, noting that he enjoys the opportunity to "showcase Utah and what we do."
"It surprises people how big Utah is in artisan, really high-quality products," he said.
Kohler said many of the vendors go to Washington for the event and noted that the occasion gives him the opportunity to "rub shoulders" with congressional representatives.
He said this was important because "the decisions they make affect us directly and especially in agriculture. We're going through some real struggles, at least in the dairy sector."
"If they don't understand, then it's pretty hard to make good decisions," Kohler said, "but if they really understand, then they can go to battle for it."
Rowena Montoya, owner of Julieann Caramels, told Friday's attendees the story behind her business name.
"At a young age of 15, my mother passed away. I had four siblings, and I'm the oldest and we were all divided and went to live with different aunts and uncles," she said.
Montoya noted that she was so impressed with the love the family who adopted her showed her that she named her business after Nancy, her uncle's wife, and her sister Julie.
She said the pair taught her that "when times get hard and things happen out of our control, you just keep chopping wood. We are creators of our own life, we have each day to make a difference."
Those same principles, Montoya said, were exemplified by many of Utah's pioneers who withstood the harsh desert conditions and volatile weather. Now, she said, "Sen. Lee has passed that same Utah spirit to Washington, D.C., at the Flavors of Utah."
Food from Heber Valley Cheese, Lower Foods, Taffy Town, Gusto Brazil, Creminelli Fine Meats, Mtn Ops, Pepperlane, Julieann Caramels, Madbrook Donut Co., Kodiak Cakes, Houwelings Tomatoes, Squatters, Apple Beer, Beehive Cheese, Chef Shamy Butter, USU Aggie Ice Cream, Sweet Candy Co., Butcher’s Bunches, Rocky Mountain Pies, Utah’s Own will be displayed and sampled on July 25 at the Russell Senate Office Building.