Selling to Chefs: Overcoming the Logistic Challenges

Farm fresh chef's vegetables

By Adrienne Cohen

Whether you call it farm to table, locally sourced food, or a hyper-local food revolution, today’s hot trend is toward buying ingredients that are produced closer to the point of consumption. We have seen the growth of craft beers and local wineries, the explosion in popularity of local farmers markets and regionally-produced cheeses, pick-your-own orchards and vegetable farms. Numerous pop-up dining venues and eateries with limited menus feature only seasonally-available options, and their numbers increase every day.

It’s not only television chefs and fine-dining establishments that embrace the flavor, nutritional value and seasonal variety of foodstuffs and ingredients produced close to home; it’s also homemakers who frequent weekly farmers markets for organic produce and natural foods. It’s anyone who helps support a sustainable environment by buying from local farmers. And it’s the taste appeal of artisan bread, homemade jams and pickles, and local salad greens.

Reasons are diverse, ranging from distrust directed at big producers, recent food scares, flavor, freshness, GMOs and environmental concerns.

A Creative Collaboration

One-of-a-kind cafe owners, Mom and Pop proprietors, trendy food truck cooks and chefs who know the importance of fresh, tasty, natural ingredients have discovered the value of seasonal menu options. They recognize even more value in developing personal relationships with the people who grow and produce the food.

Rather than simply placing orders for ingredients that must be transported an average of 1,500 miles from farm to table, they get to know their suppliers by name and forge bonds that lead in innovative directions. They even suggest new crops on occasion, to the delight of growers who love to experiment.

Farmers who sell directly to restaurant chefs gain an understanding of the creative process of recipe testing and menu development. Not only is there a financial advantage for both, but the corresponding boost in respect becomes clear and well-defined.

The Logistics of Delivery

Delivering the goods, however, can represent a major stumbling block. Crop scheduling, farm recordkeeping and production management are tedious and time-consuming chores for a small farmer. Add time away from the farm to make deliveries and the business model can become untenable. Chefs, for their part, traditionally require a guaranteed order delivered on a regular timetable, a need that can be torpedoed occasionally by weather or pest infestation. Mutual understanding is key.

Almost 50 chefs throughout Dallas and Collin Counties now constitute a core group of food professionals who have taken the “seed to plate” concept way past the experimental stage. Profound Microfarms, a family-run farm in Lucas, Texas, a suburb approximately 25 miles north of the Dallas core, was the innovative catalyst. Jeff Bednar’s greenhouse hydroponics farm produces a variety of leafy greens, herbs and edible flowers, and during a past several years, since starting his farm, he forged relationships with a number of local chefs and restaurateurs. “We speak chef,” he says, noting that he enjoys learning from the chefs and responding to their requests for unusual produce, including edible flowers.

In April of 2018, Bednar and Nelson Carter of Cartermere Farms in nearby Celina teamed up to form Profound Foods, a farmers distribution company that now delivers products from about a dozen different farmers to chefs across a two-county swath of North Texas. The deliveries, made on Tuesday and Thursday, include a variety of different proteins, including beef, lamb, pork, chicken and eggs, cheeses, greens and other vegetables, herbs and edible flowers.

Goals and Long-Term Plans

“We want to raise awareness for local food,” according to Bednar. Across the country, there is ongoing interest in a variety of unique models for food hubs and farmer-directed coops to expand the availability of locally-grown food.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture endorses the effort; Profound Foods is the recipient of a $495,000 USDA grant that will allow the venture to grow during the next three years. The plan is to add new farms, attract new restaurants, expand the delivery territory to nearby Fort Worth, purchase equipment, including computers and refrigerated trucks, and hire a full-time driver. The fledgling company has already brought on board a staff director of farmer relations. The future is bright, says Bednar.

While it may be rare these days for a chef to visit the field to select fresh produce or to personally pick a side of beef, restaurants throughout the country are partnering with small-to-medium size producers to satisfy customer demand for fresh, nutritious food. The details may differ from one region to the next, but a powerful collaboration is being driven by innovative growers and food producers who market and deliver directly to enthusiastic chefs and local restaurateurs.

We all become winners when the collaboration is successful.

It’s possible to taste the difference when the lettuce and tomato on your burger was picked that same morning, and conversation seems to flow more naturally at the local coffee shop when both chef and customer can greet a farmer who deliver eggs and bacon to the back door. If that was once the norm in small-town America, it may again become the standard for market farming in the modern age.

Adrienne Cohen
Adrienne Cohen

Adrienne Cohen is a full-time freelance writer with a passion for travel, good food, urban agriculture, school gardens, and architecture and design. She writes about them all and is happiest when her travel plans allow her to visit with farmers and educators, restaurant owners and chefs in far-flung places. Although her forebears were farmers, she claims to struggle with her own garden, but loves plucking fresh flowers from their stems and harvesting fresh herbs to use in new recipes. She is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association, maintains a couple of personal blogs and contributes to travel, agricultural and lifestyle magazines, both online and for print versions.

 

 

Sources

https://www.thebalancesmb.com/ten-reasons-restaurants-should-buy-local-foods-2888595

https://www.thebalancesmb.com/local-food-trends-for-restaurants-2888604

https://www.thebalancesmb.com/how-to-start-farm-to-table-at-your-restaurant-2888285

https://www.thebalancesmb.com/ten-reasons-restaurants-should-buy-local-foods-2888595

https://www.thebalancesmb.com/restaurant-trends-boost-sales-2888674

https://www.greenbiz.com/article/can-cooperatives-save-americas-small-farms

https://www.cartermerefarms.com/about-us.html

 

Wake Up and Smell the Flowers

Flower Salad

Restaurant chefs and gourmet bakers have long been proponents of unusual herbs and flowers to enhance food flavor and add visual excitement. Most cooks have little experience with edible flowers, however, and growers have traditionally kept flower gardens and vegetable plots well separated.

Even if you understand that some types of flowers repel pests, and that produce often benefits from a symbiotic relationship with other plants, flowers and vegetables are often at opposite ends of the growing spectrum.

That may be changing, if modern trends are any indication. Will it last?

Proponents of eco-gardening note that edible flowers and the use of multiple parts of a single plant are somewhat forgotten arts that are worthy of being revived. The practice is common in many cultures, and there is ample evidence that some edibles, including fragrant, digestible flowers, also have healing and mood-changing properties.

Sunflower sprouts and edible flowers salad

Growers in numerous “foodie capitals,” including the Dallas-Fort Worth area, report a surging demand for blossoms. Many well-known chefs prefer locally-grown produce, and eagerly purchase lettuces and microgreens, heirloom tomatoes, carrots, peppers and beets, exotic mushrooms, and flowers from individual farmers and from local farm stands and farmers markets. Restaurant customers welcome the flavors and the unexpected dining experiences. Edible flowers add new dimension and spice not only to salads and entrees, but also to craft cocktails, specialty teas and desserts.

Part of the popularity can be traced to the public’s demand for fresh, natural ingredients, and the growth of farm-to-table venues. It also speaks to a desire to return to a time when backyard gardens were the norm, and when home cooks practiced self-sufficiency, sustainable lifestyles and enjoyed kitchen experimentation.

But it doesn’t end there.

Flower Power

Today, casual gardeners and professional growers alike have discovered the joys — and the profit — produced by crops that are as beautiful as they are fragrant and flavorful. Gardeners today grow flowers to enhance the home landscape, and those same flowers can add spice to family meals. There is a growing organic market for floral mainstays like pansies, nasturtiums, marigolds and lavender. There is also newfound interest in plants at one time considered weeds — dandelions and purslane, as examples — and for root vegetable greens that were once simply discarded, carrot tops and colorful beet greens among them.

Stuffed squash and zucchini blossoms are not unusual in the South and Southwest, and other flowers are used in Asian dishes, but salads made with nasturtium leaves and blossoms have been uncommon until recently. Dandelion bread pudding, lilac scones, pansy pancakes and red poppy pasta sauce may not be on your home horizon yet, but such recipes are widely available. Professional chefs at local hotels might grow their own edible flowers, but farmers markets shoppers also want unusual products. There is a new desire to “get back to the earth,” to focus on health and wellness, and to prepare and enjoy healthful, nutritious food.

Delicate violets and candied rose petals have for some time been favored wedding cake decorations, but they are now joined by a wide variety of other blooms. Whole flowers make attractive fresh garnishes, but flowers of all kinds may also be dried, boiled, baked, battered and fried, used to infuse teas and other drinks, added to soups or used to flavor meat and fish cooked on a grill. The perception is that naturally grown food, including tasty flowers, will contribute to lasting well-being.

There are myriad options. As you may know, herb flowers often taste just like their leaves, but they’re prettier. They add subtle flavor without overpowering other ingredients; they also add sophistication to simple meals. The bottom line is that flowers are no longer just supporting players. They are becoming stars in contemporary kitchens.

Get Acquainted with Flowers

It’s important to know your flowers. Some of the prettiest are not so good to eat; others will send you to the doctor with symptoms that range from rashes to stomach or intestinal upsets, even stupor and, in rare cases, death. But the same is true of all plants. Simply “weed out” plant options that can cause problems. As with anything unknown, if you’re uncertain, always err on the side of caution. Never sample any part of a plant unless you know it’s safe.

Container gardening is especially suitable for growing edible flowers, because many of them are annuals. But flowers can also be interspersed along the rows of your vegetable garden. Experimentation is the key to success. Gardening should be creative, and it is a constant adventure, whether undertaken for fun or profit. Managing your crops requires not only the basic knowledge, of course, but also the will to improvise.

If a crop of edible flowers is something you’ve been considering, now may be the perfect time. The harvest is likely to be rewarding.

Adrienne Cohen
Adrienne Cohen

About:  Adrienne Cohen is a full-time freelance writer with a passion for travel, good food, urban agriculture, school gardens, and architecture and design. She writes about them all and is happiest when her travel plans allow her to visit with farmers and educators, restaurant owners and chefs in far-flung places. Although her forebears were farmers, she claims to struggle with her own garden, but loves plucking fresh flowers from their stems and harvesting fresh herbs to use in new recipes. She is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association, maintains a couple of personal blogs and contributes to travel, agricultural and lifestyle magazines, both online and for print versions.

Sources

https://www.sunset.com/food-wine/kitchen-assistant/10-dishes-featuring-edible-flowers#garden-chai-recipe

https://www.ecowatch.com/edible-flowers-2571727474.html

https://www.burpee.com/heirloom/

https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/earthkind/landscape/poisonous-plants-resources/common-poisonous-plants-and-plant-parts/