The Limitations of Buying Local
By C. David Wolf Executive Chef, The Blackwell Inn & Conference Center | August 12, 2012
There is a plethora of reasons why we should strongly consider buying local. The main reasons are to provide a cleaner environment, deliver better tasting food, and provide the necessary essential nutrients with the look of pure freshness, crisp, clean texture and honest wholesomeness in the food and beverage we offer guests in our daily operations.
Although produce can be the most likely source for buying local, realize that once a vegetable is pulled from its root, or fruit cut from the vine, from that moment forward quality will begin to diminish, negatively impacting nutritional values of food we eat and serve to our guests and customers.
In harmony with the season, many of our local sources refrain from the use of pesticides and chemically enhanced GMO's (genetically modified organisms), most of which have a negative impact on our environmental resources and wildlife. Currently in the US, two states (California and New York) are taking the lead in this endeavor and have passed several other significant initiatives to benefit their residents. In doing so, these states recognize the economic impact, stewardship responsibilities and nutritional values provided by taking an assertive role in buying local/regional.
So much of the produce and many of the food and beverage products we purchase in our cities have likely taken "the red eye" from the richest growing regions of California and are being transported across the continental U.S. Many other products are imported from Central and South America, traveling an average of 1500 miles for up to 5 days after processing and packaging before reaching our destinations. The degree of negative impact on the environment from CO2 emissions and fossil fuel energy burnt in our current system of transporting, packaging, and processing is daunting. This reason alone should be significant enough for all of us to leap toward local buying whenever possible.
Over the years, media and support groups have shared startling, research-based information as an incentive for us to establish relationships with community businesses that provide us with locally sourced products. One consideration we should identify is the "seasonality" of items we create on our menus. Many of our regions have short-term availability of food items especially produce. For example, strawberries, bush berries, stone fruits, melons, mushrooms and asparagus to mention just a few. There is no better means to capturing the juicy, ripe flavor, crisp texture, and nutritional values from local farms than buying during the season. Local dairies and animal ranchers are extending their services to businesses within a six-hour driving range, allowing us the advantage of the "farm to fork" service for our guests.
One of our greatest challenges with these relationships is the supply and demand factor. Rarely are we able to order and receive a consistent quantity to meet our fluctuating business levels. I have often felt that to have the freshest available produce, meats, poultry and dairy goods, we almost need to have a contract to obtain the quantities necessary to serve guests in our ala carte restaurants and catering operations. The challenge of having a fresh sheep's milk ricotta, or rainbow crunch carrots for example, one week and having a two-week order to delivery delay the following week because the producer cannot keep up with it's customers defeats the ideals of buying local. What steps can we take to resolve our dilemma? What action steps are our local businesses leaders willing to take for us to become successful?