Some of my fondest memories from childhood are of hunting and fishing trips with my father where the game we caught was cooked by a local hotel or restaurant. I remember a fishing trip to Wyoming for cutthroat trout that ended at the hotel dining room with fresh trout fixed several different ways for our whole family.
In the spirit of providing your own ingredients, a restaurant in Los Angeles, CA has taken the local food movement one step closer to it’s customers. Instead of sourcing produce from local organic farms, Jason Kim, the chef/owner of Forage Restaurant, is working with his customers who have small gardens to provide produce to the restaurant from their backyards.
Many of Kim’s customers have small backyard gardens where they grow fruits and vegetables both as a hobby and as a fresh, organic food source. Often, they produce more than they can consume and end up giving their produce to neighbors and family. In some cases, much of it goes to waste.
Chef Kim takes in the excess fruits and vegetables from these gardener-customers and gives them dining credits in the restaurant. During the peak season, a dozen backyard gardeners supply close to 35 % of the produce served at Forage restaurant. Many of the items are rare and exotic varieties of produce that are not available from commercial suppliers. Some of the dishes that Kim makes from this produce are not available at any other restaurant in Los Angeles.
Kim’s method of acquiring produce has had its share of issues. Once the city found out about the practice, they cracked down and told Kim he could not take in produce from unapproved sources. To keep the program going, he helped his local growers get state certifications similar to how farmer’s markets are approved for distribution.
In many states, sustainable communities are built around a small community farm that supplies fresh, local organic produce to the residents through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program where members buy shares in the produce grown throughout the season. This allows the grower and consumer to share in the risk. Consumers pay a fixed amount to provide upfront resources to the grower to prepare the crops and maintain them. The consumers only receive their share of what is produced on the farm during the season.
In Georgia, the Serenbe Community has a similar model but also provides produce from its farm to restaurants in the community and in downtown Atlanta. They also attend farmer’s markets and offer shares of their CSA to members outside of the Serenbe Community.
Imagine if local communities that are not built around an organic farm provided fruits and vegetables from their backyard gardens to local restaurants and farmer’s markets? Maybe farmer’s markets would become more like local “Swap Meets”? It could bring on a whole new dimension to the Saturday Yard Sale.
Please share your comments with us. If you would like to participate in the discussion of sustainability and local food issues, visit the Mapawatt Community’s Sustainability of Food forum.