Chefs are now railing against industrial food production and commodity farming. Professional cooks like Spike Gjerde not only buy heirloom tomatoes from the food market when they are in season, they buy them in large quantities. The Baltimore-based chef has paid a staggering $80,000 to snap up 220,000 pounds of high-quality Maryland tomatoes during the autumn months. The vegetables are then canned to use them at his restaurants all around the year.
Sustainability is vital
For Gjerde, he knew for a long time the many benefits of local sourcing but has scant knowledge about how to go about it. He learned how to do by trial and error, applying different methods to do the same objective at his different restaurants with their differing environments. Experts like Michael H. Shuman support the concept of buying local. He says that producing, consuming, and processing of local food generates distinct benefits like ecological sustainability and stronger community economies. Community residents have better health and better civic engagement. Equality is also another beneficial side effect.
For chefs like Gjerde, they are trying to extract the maximum benefits from going the local way. His team, for example, began to can tomatoes after they observed that they ran out of tomatoes during the vegetable's offseason. When this workload became too much to do at the restaurant, the operation was moved off-site to another facility a short distance away. Tabasco sauce was soon made in-house with the locally available hot peppers. A butcher shop soon followed. All such off-site centers supply much-needed ingredients to the different restaurants in the chain.
Some items are substituted if they are unavailable locally. Since Olives are not a locally produced in Baltimore; the restaurants use local sunflower and canola oils. Peanuts are sourced from Virginia. Local foragers gather hickory nuts and black walnuts. Items like sugar are hard to replace. This is substituted if possible by local honey, sorghum, and maple syrup. For some items like refined sugar, it is hard to locate any substitute. So is the use of coffee. The latter is imported from far away distances.
Good restaurateurs like Gjerde actually hold meetings with the farmers to map out a year-long plan. They tell the producers what they will purchase in the coming months. The farmers, in turn, adjust plans on what the restaurants require. It has been estimated that such active help towards local farmers has injected about $30 million back into the local economy every year.