Demand for local foods is hot even in chilly weather
It’s relatively easy for a restaurant to feature local fresh produce in the summertime, when area farmers have plenty. It’s more challenging in the winter.
Increasingly, restaurants and growers are stepping up to the challenge every winter, in part because fresh, local foods appeal to their consumers.
“I’ve been a chef for close to 20 years,” noted David Crabtree-Logan, owner and chef at The Broken Tulip restaurant in Richmond’s Carytown community. “It takes a long time to realize the importance of your ingredients. It’s not about trying to be clever and trying to put 100 things on a plate. It’s about getting the best ingredients. And treating them to show them at their very best.”
Local food sales to consumers have doubled since 2014, according to the food industry research firm Packaged Facts, a division of Market Research Group LLC. But finding local foods in the winter usually requires some research by the consumer.
“That’s the whole premise of our business here in Ashland,” said Chris Stem, co-owner of the Ashland Meat Company. “I think there’s been a long-time belief that local is seasonal and it is too expensive. We want people to be able to go to their neighborhood market and find the products that are made by their family and their friends” at any time of the year.
To find local foods in cold weather, “you have to find the farmers that are willing and want be out in the mud and the slush to get it,” added Brian Garretson, who raises produce year-round with his partner, Autumn Campbell, on Tomten Farm in Prince Edward County. “I know in the Richmond area and even in Northern Virginia there are farmers that are growing year-round. There’s people that are starting to do winter community-supported agriculture cooperatives; I do see that starting to happen. It’s out there. It just takes the consumer a little bit more effort.”
Chefs also have to build relationships and seek out year-round growers, and the profit margins are even slimmer than in traditional restaurants, said Broken Tulip co-owner Sariann Lehrer. But she noted that customers love it and enjoy eating in-season foods.
“Our group of five farms produce year-round for us, and we have one or two that are really our big producers through the winter time,” Lehrer said. “One of our farms prefers their winter crops over their summer crops. That was a really great connection for us to make, because they enjoy farming in the winter more than they do in the summer.”
Real Virginia, Virginia Farm Bureau’s weekly television program, recently aired a story on sourcing local foods in cold weather. It’s available at bit.ly/rv19winter.