If corporations can adopt sections of the highway system to keep it clean, why can’t restaurants adopt small, working farms to keep them going?
Last week, we held our annual chef conference at Heritage Prairie Farm(HPF) in La Fox, IL., about 50 miles west of Chicago. Those of you who follow these pages know we partnered up with HPF earlier this year, a collaboration that involves leasing two 2 acres that grow and deliver produce to our four area Big Bowl locations. Because we select the seeds, work the land and collaborate right down to choosing the type of boxes that the produce is delivered in, it’s a true seed-to- table program.
During our talks with the team and owners of HPF, it became apparent that for small farms to succeed, they need early, initial support. But the banks won’t give them money until they have customers (a catch 22), the government is too committed to big agribusiness to help the little guy, and hauling product to area to farmers markets to sell 50 to 100 pounds of product on weekends5, while nice, just isn’t enough.
I’m a capitalist so I’m not saying restaurants should just donate money to these farms. But why can’t a restaurant that believes in supporting local business and produce team up with a local farm at the farm level – not the farmers market?
To make this happen, we planned in advance the types of vegetables we wanted to grow and purchased the seed, an investment that offset the overall cost, but more importantly, committed us to the produce (it also presented a small discount to offset our initial expense). This gives the farm a head start on the summer and allows them financial breathing room to pursue other crops and
customers. Imagine if two or three other restaurants all “adopted” a small farm, the goal for more local produce and supporting local businesses would be helped tremendously.
We still would need the big produce houses because these little farms can’t do it all, especially in the Midwest. But we in the restaurant industry can help these farms grow and be a complement to the big producers. If you are a restauranteur and would like more detail on what we did, feel free to comment and I will contact you.