You’ve heard about organic ingredients. You’ve also heard about food miles and skyrocketing food costs. Anybody in the restaurant business can tell you these issues have affected their customer’s tastes and their bottom line. Stir in increasingly frugal customers and you’ve got a recipe for trouble in any restaurant. That devilish combination of customers expecting better quality and also expecting to spend less is enough to make any restaurateur tear their hair out.
More and more chefs are turning to a simple solution that addresses both the quality and the cost on this two-headed monster. Chefs are growing their own ingredients. Of course, this is hardly a new concept, but as the demand for organic rises along with the prices on top quality greens and vegetables, the number of chefs turning to gardening during the day what they plan to cook that night has risen sharply.
Abandoned lots, small terraces, and modest urban gardens from San Francisco to Cincinnati are being converted into tiny organic farms by chefs passionate about finding the best ingredients possible without having to pay through the nose. Many have discovered that being able to control the process, from seed to harvest to the walk-in, affords them a pride and a certainty in the quality of their ingredients.
Restaurants that source their food so locally (often in their own backyard) is also a great green practice, saving the thousands of miles ingredients typically travel through the traditional food supply network. Those saved miles not only means less transportation emissions, it means less cost to the restaurant. And any time a restaurant can bring better ingredients to their customers at a better price, they should take it.
Are you thinking about starting a garden for your restaurant? The first three steps you should take:
Location. Climate, water, and soil will all affect what you can grow well and what you can’t. Research which plants and vegetables do well in the local climate and what their water and soil requirements are.
Organic. If you’re going to garden your own herbs and vegetables, they might as well be organic. Research organic practices and implement them in your garden from the beginning.
Time and alternative local sources. Organic gardening takes time and effort. Doing it successfully requires a passion and an investment of time that not every restaurant has. If you are looking to source local ingredients, but don’t have the space, time, or climate to do so successfully, contact local farmers and build relationships that will still save you money on food costs and allow you to make your restaurant more sustainable. You might also settle on a combination of both methods, growing herbs like basil or cilantro that are easy to tend while sourcing locally other ingredients that require more effort and space.
No matter which way you decide to go, local food sources are becoming a popular trend in the food service industry, and not only because it sounds good to customers. There are some real economic incentives as well, and any restaurant looking to cut costs would do well to look into the local food network for some solutions.