Farm-to-table restaurants part of local foods movement
By Kathy Chaffin
If the growing number of restaurants that promote their farm-to-table menu is an indication, more and more North Carolinians want to eat locally grown food.
This is all part of the “locavore” – a term describing someone who wants to buy food that is grown locally and not transported long distances – movement, which helps local farmers and the local economy while reducing the fuel costs of transporting produce and meat. This, in turn, helps local air quality by reducing the amount of fuel emissions.
Bryan Coyle, manager of the Moose Cafe – the farm-to-table restaurant at the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market in Colfax—said his customers want "the real deal, not food you pour out of a can and slap in the oven." During produce season, he buys vegetables "from the smallest stand to the local wholesale market."
Typically, Coyle says, farm-fresh produce costs less. "So it works out great," he said. "You support local farmers, and you also get a better deal."
Though the Moose Cafe is just starting to buy locally raised meat, Coyle is committed to buying locally grown fruits and vegetables whenever possible.
The Moose Cafe has won numerous awards and recognition for its food, including being voted the "Triad's Favorite No. 1 Place for Breakfast Using Local Ingredients."
American Farm-to-Table Restaurant Guide
The Market Place in downtown Asheville is one of the top three farm-to-table restaurants in North Carolina listed in the American Farm-to-Table Restaurant Guide, along with The Lantern in Chapel Hill and Herons in Cary. The guide – accessible at americanfarmtotable.com – lists the “best restaurants in the United States that share a solid commitment to using primarily naturally-raised and organic ingredients sourced directly from local farms and farmers' markets."
The Lantern Chef/owner Andrea Reusing said the percentage of locally grown fruits and vegetables used by the restaurant varies according to the season. "In the dead of winter, it's probably about 15 to 20 percent," she said, "in the summer, 80 to 90 percent."
Reusing said she buys fruits and vegetables grown within a 30-to-40 mile radius. She looks for "great flavor, transparency and a good sense of humor" in the farmer whose produce she purchases.
Nearly all of the meat and dairy products served by the restaurant are also purchased from local farmers. While the farm-to-table aspect brings in many customers, Reusing said, "many guests also come, eat and leave without ever thinking about it." Overall, though, she said people are definitely starting to care about where the food they eat is grown or raised.
N.C. Department of Agriculture Supports Farm-to-Table Restaurants
The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services supports farm-to-table restaurants in various ways, including sponsoring an annual "Best Dish in North Carolina" restaurant competition requiring all entries to be created with local products and ingredients.
Joy Hicks, policy development analyst for the department, staffs the North Carolina Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council on behalf of Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler. The council, which includes three members from Rowan and Cabarrus counties -- Randall Patterson of Rowan County, Tony Porter of Concord and John Day, former Cabarrus County manager -- works with farmers to help them meet regulations in selling produce.
For example, Hicks said many of the major retailers such as grocery stores are requiring farmers to become GAP (Good Agriculture Practices) certified either from a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspector or a third-party inspector. This includes ensuring that farmers use best management practices in growing, harvesting and handling produce; that the water they use for irrigation is not contaminated; that they wash their hands when handling or packing fruits and vegetables; and that safety precautions are followed in the use of any chemicals.
"Some farmers find that to be a barrier because it is expensive," she said. "The Department of Agriculture actually is sponsoring a cost-share program that gives farmers up to $600 to help defray the cost."