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There are a variety of reasons to include locally grown items on your menu:
Farmers markets are the best place to start, as you can meet local growers and see what crops are available each month during the growing season. From there you can:
Collaborate with a grower and have specific crops grown for you, such a lettuce, tomatoes, fruits, and other desired menu items.
Create a relationship with growers and receive shipments each week to your restaurant.
Find out from your current food purveyor what local products they distribute
Seek out local cheeses, meats, and wines, which can be included on your menu year round.
Show up early to the market each week to purchase items for your seasonal menu.
Generally cost and quantity are the two main barriers. Locally grown ingredients can sometimes be more expensive, but compared to products from major food distributors, you just can't beat the taste of truly farm fresh and artisanal products. It's important to run your numbers and look at how locally grown ingredients can fit into your business plan. With the issue of quantity, many choose to feature a "local" dish, which is available until it runs out. Some also choose to focus on just a few local items they can find in quantity, such as meat, cheese, and commonly grown produce items.
Absolutely. By letting your customers know which products are locally grown, you advertise your support for local agriculture thereby expanding your market potential. Also, it provides great advertising for the local farms which you source ingredients from, furthering the partnership between your businesses. If you are serving local in a school, advertising the farms where products came from can serve as a valuable educational tool.
The Agriculture Collaborative hosts monthly meetings on a variety of topics, many of which are of interest to crop and livestock producers. Sign up today for our e-newsletter and learn about upcoming meetings and workshops or view our past meeting topics online. Our local food blog and our events calendar can help keep you up to date on what is happening locally and nationally with local foods and agriculture. Be sure to also see the chefs and food service resource listing.