We work with growers every week to bring the best local produce to Charlotte area restaurants. I find that most growers love the idea of selling their beautiful produce to restaurants, however, they find the experience difficult. The coordination between growers and chefs can be daunting because they live in two different “universes” with different deadlines, social structure, and business norms. I spent some time chatting with a few growers, and came up with five things chefs could do to make it easier on growers.
It might arrive in a strange box. Most small local growers can’t manage professional packaging. We wish we could provide labeled or fancy packing, however, for most of us, it is just too expensive. Professional boxes for produce are normally sold in larger quantities than most small growers need or can afford. Please forgive the eggplants in the tomato box, or the herbs in a grocery store bag. We don’t like it too much either, but is the best we can do.
We can’t carry your money. When a farmer arrives with your beautiful produce, please pay. It doesn’t work for most growers to take their invoice and tell them you will pay them later or that your accountant will send a check. Farmers work on thin margins and need cash or check on delivery. In the past, we had a restaurant that wanted to have their head office send a check, and before long they owed us over $1000.00. We had to then wrestle with the chef to get paid, and it was a bad experience. Farmers do not have the cash flow to float the restaurant. Please pay on delivery.
Things might not look like you expect. The thing about produce from local growers is that often they are not using pesticides, and they are allowing the produce to ripen in the field until it tastes amazing. Often, the end result does not look like grocery store produce. The peaches might have spots; the squash might be shaped strange; the tomatoes might crack; the carrots might be crooked and the kale might have a few holes. Just think how great it tastes! I’ll take a cracked and odd shaped vine ripe tomato over a cardboard “perfect” one any day. The Lacinado kale with a few holes tastes great! The tree ripe spotty local peaches are far sweeter than the ones harvested green in California. Don’t expect the produce from small local farms to look like a commercial product, because it isn’t.
Stay in the game. I have eaten at many restaurants in the Charlotte area, and I can vouch for the fact that the restaurants serving meals made from local ingredients are some of the best in town! I also know it isn’t easy or cheap for chefs to take this route. Neither is it easy for farmers to sell to restaurants. It will get easier! This whole “local food” idea is taking off, and I feel sure we are on the ground floor of something big and important. Creative ideas will improve our systems. If we can all just stay in the game, many of the challenges farmers have coordinating with chefs will smooth out. Chefs, please be patient and kind to your local growers. Don’t give up on us and don’t give up on the whole concept. We want this to work. Please keep trying.
Want to support restaurants and chefs that directly support their local farming community by featuring local produce, meats, and cheeses? Give one of these a try. You won’t be disappointed. These are some of the best restaurants and food in the Charlotte area.
Passion 8 Bistro
Block and Grinder
Fern Flavors from the Garden
Roots Good Local Food
Halcion Flavors From the Earth
The Flipside Cafe
The King’s Kitchen
The Stone Table
Eat Your Veggies,