Food is intrinsic in our culture and our daily lives. It is a part of our heritage – where we have been and where we are going. Every part of the globe has its own specific view on how we feed ourselves, and it usually boils down to history –150 years ago, most of our food was grown and harvested locally, then with the advent of refrigerated rail cars, within our continental borders.
Today, the world has become a global marketplace with food grown in far-off lands, shipped and arriving into our grocery stores, our homes and even locally owned restaurants. We have all come across food at the grocery store at odd times of the year that doesn’t taste just right, isn’t sweet or as full of flavor – think strawberries in December or tomatoes in January. Restaurants in Greenville and beyond face the same challenges.
The 2012 Census of Agriculture, which the USDA produces every five years, showed a total of 1,101 farms in Greenville County using over 72,800 acres. In 2012, Greenville County crop and livestock sales totaled over $16 million. A 2013 report by Clemson University, the Palmetto AgriBusiness Council, and the SC Department of Agriculture determined that the agribusiness sector contributes $41.7 billion to the state’s economy, almost 10 percent of the state’s total output.
When Six & Twenty’s Robert “Farmer” Redmond and David Raad set out to make “a local whiskey for local folks using local grain”, it was important for them to know where and how they sourced the soft red winter wheat required for their whiskey. “In our first year, not knowing how much grain we’d need, the SC Farm Bureau’s Anderson Grain Elevator ran out of red wheat toward the end of the season,” Redmond said. “Being able to communicate our yearly needs, we were able to create an ongoing relationship.”
Executive Chef Greg McPhee of Restaurant 17 also believes that an ongoing relationship with local farms is vitally important. “If we commit to something, if we tell a farmer we are doing something, we need to follow through,” McPhee said. “When we (and other restaurants) start ordering, we can’t back out or take three weeks off … if the farmer is expecting me to order at a specific time, they are counting on us, its cash flow for a small business. We will have local salad as staff meals consistently if it’s a slow week.”
Restaurant 17 and other restaurants have the ability to order from suppliers such as US Foods or Cisco. Like Six & Twenty, it was a conscious decision for Restaurant 17 to source their ingredients from local farmers from the start.
“If we get someone in who is new, we try to guide them in the right direction with social media, tag them on Instagram, I’ll tell them to go to Bacon Brothers, Stella, High Cotton, American Grocery, and these are the names of the guys that are going to purchase from you,” McPhee said. “If a farmer has something great, it is my responsibility to not be selfish, but to share it and help the farmer grow.”
From another perspective, Larkin’s on the River in downtown Greenville introduces their guests to local ingredients through specials by offering trout from High Valley Farms, whole local veal, or pork from Greenbrier Farms. Larkin’s Restaurants Managing Partner Bob Munnich explains that it can require significant time and planning to obtain the quantity required to satisfy the needs of the kitchen and guests.
“Last year, we did a series of dinners for discriminating diners that required specific cuts of meat from Greenbrier Farms,” Munnich said. “Because of their commitment to Whole Foods Market, we needed to work with them two-three months ahead of time to assure they could meet our needs.”
Because we ask, because we continue to seek knowledge about what is placed on our dinner plates – where it was sourced, the manner in which it is prepared, and the methods the farmer uses – restaurants will continue to go the extra mile to develop relationships and have conversations with local purveyors of trout, beef, squash and greens, among other delicious and healthy products for us to enjoy.
Will Morin, co-founder of the Rooftop Farming Initiative at Mill Village Farms, is an avid outdoorsman and food buff. Find him on Twitter at @EpicGastroExp.