Many organizations in King County exist to support the farm-to-restaurant pipeline. The Seattle Good Business Network (SGBN) is an organization that connects and inspires people to buy, produce, and invest locally, so that everyone has a meaningful stake in the local economy. The Local Food team interviewed Andrea Porter, SGBN Seattle Made Program Manager, to learn more about why local food matters to restaurants and consumers.
Why does local food matter to restaurants? What are some of those reasons behind restaurant owners, managers, and staff choosing to supply local food?
“The simplest reason is that food will taste better to consumers,” said Porter. “Local ingredients make chefs’ dishes fresher and more unique.”
Porter also mentioned other, more specific reasons that may influence restaurant and consumer choices. “Many people, including chefs and consumers, are concerned about the impact on the local economy and environment when food has to be transported over long distances,” said Porter. “When a restaurant sources locally, they will have a significantly lower environmental impact.
Investing in local food also supports local farms, she said.
“Many restaurant owners, chefs, and farmers are acutely aware of the money lost to the local economy when food is not sourced in King County or even in Washington state.”
Another reason restaurants have been making the switch to local food is because their customers are demanding it.
“Diners are asking more specific questions about where their food comes from,” said Porter. “They don’t want to pay high prices for food that isn’t high quality. Produce loses a significant amount of nutrients when it isn’t sourced locally and customers are starting to notice.”
After better understanding why local food matters to restaurants and their customers, the Local Food Team interviewed Luke Woodward, farmer, owner of The Grange restaurant, and part-time program manager of the Northwest Agriculture Business Center, to better understand how his extensive farming experience has influenced his restaurant decisions to source locally.
Woodward started Oxbow Farm in 1999 and ran the farm for 17 years with his partner, Sarah Cassidy. They left the farm and bought The Grange café in Duvall in March 2018. Woodward and Cassidy closed and remodeled the café to be what is now called The Grange. The restaurant has a simple yet unique and satisfying menu with predominantly locally sourced food.
Why did you decide to own The Grange restaurant and focus on sourcing local foods?
“Our restaurant was created with the main intention of sourcing locally,” said Woodward. “Local food means everything to me and to the dedicated staff who work at The Grange.”
Woodward and Cassidy’s farming roots heavily influenced their decision to open a restaurant using almost exclusively local ingredients.
“We try to source as close to the restaurant as possible and have been quite successful finding the ingredients we need right here in the Valley,” he said.
Woodward and Cassidy also source from their own Hearth Farm, where Cassidy is the main grower. The team duo also source from the land they rent from the SnoValley Tilth Experience Farming Project.
“We rent a half acre of land from SnoValley Tilth and grow almost all of the vegetables we use at The Grange on that land,” he said. “We also graze pigs and chickens and grow herbs on Hearth Farm that we use at The Grange.”
Woodward and Cassidy look in the local area for crops they are unable to grow on their working lands.
“We can’t grow everything ourselves, but source everything we can locally,” he said.
Woodward also works part-time as the program manager for the Northwest Agriculture Business Center.
“My part-time job led me to working with Cascadia Cooperative Farms since our organization was providing assistance for them to establish their business,” he said. “Their first egg sale was actually to our restaurant, which was a big deal for them and for us. We’re excited to see them grow and continue sourcing from them.”
Woodward and Cassidy also work closely with Puget Sound Food Hub. “The cooperative movement is working to simplify farm to restaurant connections,” he said.
“Puget Sound Food Hub makes it easy to source from a single place and get a lot of produce from different farms. I think we have a lot of connections other restaurants may not have because we’re farm owners and have been a part of the farming community for a long time,” said Woodward. “We know all of the growers in our community and can be on their doorstep within the hour when a chef needs something for one of our courses.”
What are the challenges to restaurants of connecting with local farmers and buying local food?
Many chefs and restaurants have to overcome a few barriers to source locally. “I can see how chefs and restaurateurs can find sourcing locally difficult,” said Woodward. “However, I really think organizations like Farmstand Local Foods and Puget Sound Food Hub have made it easy and convenient to find fresh local food. They remove many of the barriers.”
One barrier that often comes up when talking with chefs and restaurateurs about the process of sourcing local food is the increased cost.
“Some of the pricing is higher and some restaurants focus more on lowering prices than sourcing locally,” Woodward said. “If you are a restaurant owner or chef and you are dedicated to sourcing locally, you can do it without breaking the bank. One important approach we take that has saved us money is diligently minimizing waste. We’re frugal and cleverly plan our menu with the intention of minimizing labor costs to compensate for the higher ingredient prices.”
The Grange doesn’t let anything go to waste, Woodward said.
“For example, when the chefs and staff core apples for poached apples, they save the cores and cook them down to create breakfast and dessert sauces. We have to be willing to be creative and adaptive since we’re paying higher prices. The Grange doesn’t have a set menu because we are committed to our core message: Always follow yields from farm fields.”
Visit the Grange restaurant’s website for more details.