You may have heard of some of the local trends popping up in the food service industry, and thought “why should I get into this?” One of these trends I referenced in a blog last week is the growing interest in buying local food. I had the opportunity to speak with Neil Stauffer, the general manager of Penn's Corner Farm Alliance, to help answer a few questions you may have about the benefits of buying your food locally.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what “local” means. Sometimes, you may be getting fresh food direct from the farm at your farmer’s market, but it’s also very possible that this food was imported from a different climate, which wouldn’t exactly count as “local.” Neil’s definition was that, “Usually local food is defined in terms of miles from the farm to the store or customer. I would say that a max of 100-150 miles typically serves as a good standard. Sometimes, local is also defined by state lines or geographic features, as in local to the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Personally, I think a good shorthand definition ‘is if you know the farmer who grew your food, then it's probably pretty local.’”
Now, it’s easy for someone who lives in Lancaster, PA, (the location of The Webstaurant Store), to find local farms to buy food from. But what if you live in New York City? Or Southern California? Is it possible for you to buy from local farms when there are no local farms? Well, with the invention of the internet, almost anything is possible.
According to Neil, “More and more farms are using websites to connect with customers. There are some really good farm databases on the internet too. Localharvest.org is probably the best known of them. A quick Google search is bound to reveal either farms or distributors in your area that provide local farm products to restaurants. Hopefully, you'll have a farm co-op in your area that works with restaurants. Co-ops return more of the purchase price directly to the farmers and have a high commitment to providing locally grown foods.”
Even with this mass amount of information at your fingertips, you may be wondering why you should consider purchasing local food instead of from your usual supplier. Neil gave a few good reasons:
Eat fresh, healthy farm products harvested each week specifically for you.
Support the local economy by keeping your food dollars close to home.
A wide selection of fruit, vegetables, eggs, meats and more are available in many areas from local farmers.
Help keep farms financially viable and preserve farmland.
Now that we know the benefits and the ease of buying local, why not switch to a partially or wholly local menu? It’s a great selling point to your eco-friendly customers and will do a great service to your community for years to come.
Neil Stauffer is general manager of Penn's Corner Farm Alliance. Based in Pittsburgh, PA, Penn's Corner is a farm co-operative made up of 30 southwestern Pennsylvania farms. The farmers raise produce, fruits, eggs, honey, cheeses, and various meats on their family farms. The co-op markets and sells their locally grown farm products to wholesale customers, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members, and buying club supporters.