Getting local food into restaurants: NB farmer and restauranteur shares her insights
***Note this commentary was first published in the Summer 2016 Edition of the NB Family Farmer as the Message from the Women’s president***
Commentary – September 29, 2016
When we started farming six years ago we had already been restauranteurs for seven years. It all began when we thought we would find a way to feed our growing family of three boys and one girl. We wanted to know what was in our food and what chemicals were going into our children so we chose to grow according to the Canadian Organic Standards. We believed it would be the smartest path for providing the best food for our family in the most cost efficient manner.
We started with a small plot and then increased the plot as we used the veggies in our restaurant as well as feeding our family. The next year we increased the land again so that we could accommodate a local farmers market. Ultimately, we started farming all our land and this now allows us to sell to many types of customers including stores, markets, and other restaurants.
We envisioned this wonderful marriage between the two worlds; we are restauranteurs, who farm, or conversely, we are farmers who have a restaurant! We know both worlds intimately, from the early mornings of the farmer to the late nights of the restauranteur. My husband, Carson, had many contacts in the local restaurant scene and we knew from personal experience, that they would be looking for fresh local produce. Furthermore, we thought we would be the perfect vender of our produce, as we are aware of the many potential frustrations of being a purchaser.
We decided we would price competitively with big suppliers for these restaurants and our advantage would be that we could choose our veggies with a consistency fitted for a “Chef”. We knew as well that minimum orders are difficult for restaurants with strict budgets and specific needs, so we decided to offer no minimum orders for delivery and no minimum quantities of each individual item for purchase. We knew that these were the major complaints we had as purchasers: pricing, product consistency, and minimum orders.
Our produce was well received as was our flexibility for produce ordering but we did sometimes find it difficult to compete with large suppliers who are already set up to do large orders for restaurateurs, making it difficult for the small suppliers to get in. Also, consistency of product was at times an issue for our purchasers and as farmers we are still not sure why people cannot seem to wrap their minds around the fact that carrots do not all grow to 6 – 8 inches and in a straight line! The issue of pricing is tricky too. The gap between how much it costs to grow good produce and how little chefs want to pay is remarkable. Of course, we know that from both sides! We experience the high cost food as a family, as farmers and as restaurateurs; and like everyone else, we try to balance between cost and quality.
So how did it go? Our farm and our restaurant have both survived and thrived but in my opinion, from our unique position as farmers and restauranteurs, education is the answer. As farmers we must continue to tell restaurants and the general public, what food “really looks like”. And as restauranteurs we need to continue to educate our customers that local is better for the health of their family as well as the health of their local economy. There is a cost for local organic food, but, from our perspective, it is worth it. There has to be a balance and with education we could encourage customers to accept that local produce costs a little more, allowing the restaurant to charge just a bit more for the salad or burger. In turn, the restaurant owner would be able to pay more to the farmer for the high quality local meat or vegetables so that everyone can make a fair wage for their work – and all would be happy ☺
Women’s president of the National Farmers Union in New Brunswick,
Co-owner Chef Carson’s Organics and the Dune View Inn, in Bouctouche Bay