Historically, farm-branded ingredients were the bread and butter to a restaurant’s recipes. Before today’s vast transportation systems, chefs didn’t have the luxury of using produce and products from across the country.

But consumer trends are taking a retro spin as the demand for sustainability on the plate is driving the use of fresh, farm-grown favorites.

The national restaurant Association surveyed 1,854 American Culinary Federation member chefs in October 2009 asking them to rate new trends for restaurant menus in 2010. They reported that the leading culinary theme is sustainability.

Whether applied to produce, meat, seafood or alcoholic beverages, the concepts of environmentally friendly practices and local sourcing are appealing to both restaurant operators and consumers for several reasons.

Freshness, health and the use of minimal fossil fuels in transporting locally grown goods to chefs are strong benefits. But supporting local businesses and communities is the way a nation heals from the economic downturn; it’s considered a bottom-up approach rather than waiting for top-down solutions.

Locally Grown Greens

Jordano’s Foodservice leans on locally owned and operated Babe Farms, located in the fertile Santa Maria Valley, for just-picked salad blends and baby- sized produce.

Ande Manos, Babe Farms’ sales and marketing guru, says the trend is on the rise as chefs want to know where their produce is coming from and consumers are more acutely in tune to the green movement and how it affects the food on their plates.

“We can see the way local chefs truly love food and demand freshness. They pick up something and they smell it and taste it right there. They want super fresh produce because they are creating a form of art on the plate that is not only delicious and edible, it is aesthetically beautiful, too,” says Ande of the trend that helps support and preserve local farms.

And freshness means produce doesn’t sit in a warehouse for days before it reaches you. Ande is proud to report the produce they sell is hand harvested in the morning and locally delivered in the afternoon of the same day.

Naturally Sustainable

While the trend is hugely popular today, for years Babe Farms has continued their commitment to sustainability. now with over 200 acres in organic certification, many sustainable practices are now implemented in not only their organic crop, but also with their conventional vegetables.

Just what does it mean to be sustainable?

For Babe Farms it means being a good steward to the land. Cover cropping is a standard practice for the farm which plants a variety of blends that include vetch, clover, buckwheat, beans, peas, and grain. The crop is plowed under to help build organic matter, provide nutrients and help suppress weed pressure. Commercial fertilizers are no longer used in the organic program; continuing to use compost, many blends of fish emulsion, plant and animal extracts has increased the quality of their soils for future plantings.

Crop rotation with a variety of other vegetables also has been beneficial; it helps suppress disease in the field.

With efficient means of irrigation, now Babe Farms is able to reduce water usage with the use of drip irrigation, which allows for better placement of water and fertigation.

Ande says part of sustainability is introducing younger generations to the farm-freshness of food, too.

“It’s frightening for kids to not know where their food comes from, so introducing them to our farm or to local farmer’s markets help them draw a connection to food sources and understand the importance of preserving our land,” Ande says.

Safety of Fresh Foods

Since the media lends plenty of attention to the green movement, consumers want to know where their food derives. Scares such as E. coli have heightened their inquisitiveness.

Many businesses are required to label their food’s country of origin for the consumer. By menuing the name of the local farm you purchase produce from, you bring peace of mind to the customer.

Ande shares that all irrigation water on Babe’ Farms ranches are tested monthly by a third party lab to ensure safe water quality.

By preparing locally grown food, chefs create healthier people and healthier communities and they support farmers, such as Babe Farms, that are preserving the diversity of our food choices through the varieties they plant.Local farms deliver it fresh, but here are a few tips for restaurants and chefs to avoid getting a rotten deal:

  • Set clear expectations for the farmer. When you set a standard for quality, you’re more likely to get consistency.
  • Share the specifics. Agree on the variety, size, color, quantity and packaging ahead of time.
  • Have a back-up plan. inclement weather, droughts and delivery issues can set your quantity-on-hand back. Be prepared for a hiccup with a back-up farmer or menu swap.
  • give it up. Share with the farm just how you plan to use their produce (sauces, sandwiches or as a garnish).
  • Create a selling point. Customers demand it, so show them you are delivering. gather details about the local farm and communicate it on your menu.