Eat local grown: that's the mantra a lot of restaurants and foodies are following these days. Sourcing food from your own garden sometimes outweighs any potential inconveniences old-school purchasing causes. Restaurants across North America have taken to growing their own produce and herbs, even in cities like New York, according to Well+Good. Here are some of the benefits you could receive if you make the switch.
Knowledge and Control
Brad Long, the executive chef and owner of Cafe Belong in Toronto's Evergreen Brick Works, believes the knowledge and control over all inputs is vital. Because he grows his own food on-site, he's aware of the fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides used — or not used — in the process.
If you eat local grown and gather ingredients from a garden you closely tend, it's, in his estimation, infinitely better than ordering it from somebody who's brokering it from somewhere else. That's a long supply chain to keep track of. Personal gardens let you know all you want about your food so you can also be honest to whomever you cook for.
Restaurant owners who grow and serve their own food will also speak about basic economics. For Long, control and access to peak ripeness is key. He knows how much he's got to work with and what exactly he's paying for. This helps him save on shipping, transportation and storage costs, and he avoids paying distributors or middlemen. While you save money, you'll also reduce food waste. "Less is wasted because one only needs to harvest what's needed each day or each meal period," says Long. "Instead of having degrading or spoiling ingredients, you have alive and vibrant resources to tap into tomorrow and into the immediate future while still growing."
Long also engages local foragers to find him everything from wild herbs to mushrooms. That, in addition to his garden, allows him to have a seasonally inspired and ever-changing menu. Growing your own produce ups your creativity options and lets you determine how you'll experiment and cook. You won't be limited to only use the produce your vendor or supermarket had in stock that week.
When shopping at farmers markets or local farms, you can buy only what you need for the week. When you grow your own food, you may end up with more produce than you planned for. If you have a glut of zucchinis, cucumbers or strawberries during the growing season, savvy foodies know that canning summer flavors for the dark days of winter is financially smart as well as delicious. Pickles, chutneys and jams (savory or sweet!) can all make their way into a larder and eventually freshen up winter plates. You're more likely not to waste your harvest if you worked so hard to grow it in the first place.
So, can growing your own produce be better than buying at a farmers market or organic grocery store? Yes, agrees Long, but with one caveat. "It's more of a symbiotic portion of the process since nobody can grow everything better than absolutely everyone else, and no restaurateur can grow all the things a restaurant will need," he explains. "I advocate for growing as much as possible, and then defaulting to trusted farmers [before] buying certified organics." It's all about what works best for your kitchen and what your schedule and menu allow for.
Photo credit: Mary Luz Mejia