Farm-Chef-Fork: USU Specialists Foster Farmer-Restaurant Connections
Thursday, Oct. 04, 2012
USU Extension specialists, from left, Roslynn Brain, Kelsey Hall and Kynda Curtis secured USDA Specialty Crop grant funds to establish Utah's 'Farm-Chef-Fork’ program. The program fosters communication between Utah farmers and restaurants.
Roslynn Brain, USU sustainable communities specialist, says encouraging eateries to use locally sourced food by strengthening connections between local growers and restaurants reduces 'food miles' - a step toward improving air and community health.
While Utah restaurateur Ryan Lowder makes a point of using locally sourced produce in his culinary creations, he admits connecting with local growers isn’t always easy.
Presenting at a Utah State University Extension-hosted Diversified Agriculture Conference this past February, Lowder, owner of Salt Lake City’s posh Copper Onion Restaurant, discussed this challenge. Sometimes prospective suppliers show up with their wares during the lunch or dinner rush, he said, when he simply doesn’t have time to talk. Or, when he needs a specific ingredient for a particular dish, he doesn’t always know who to contact.
Conference participant Roslynn Brain, assistant professor and sustainable communities specialist in USU’s Department of Environment and Society, asked Lowder if adding the selection item “For Farmers” to his restaurant website might help his communications with growers. Lowder readily agreed.
That’s when Brain identified a need and decided to pursue a solution to the communication gap between Utah farmers and local restaurants. With USU colleagues Kynda Curtis, agriculture business specialist and associate professor in the Department of Applied Economics, and Kelsey Hall, assistant professor of agricultural communication and journalism in the School of Applied Sciences, Technology and Education, she applied for USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant funds.
The team’s successful proposal, one of 16 projects awarded grant funds July 12 by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, establishes “Farm-Chef-Fork.” The program forms an umbrella network to bolster farm-to-restaurant communication and sourcing across the state. It’s designed to help Utah farmers and gardeners market their produce to restaurants and help chefs and restaurants communicate more efficiently with suppliers.
Brain says the idea isn’t new. Several states have similar programs, including Colorado’s “Crop-to-Cuisine,” California’s “Sierra Farm-to-Table” and Montana’s “Farm-to-Restaurant Connection.”
“But, to my knowledge, Farm-Chef-Fork will be the first such program in Utah and it will be tied directly to our university system,” she says. “USU Extension offices and connections throughout the state provide an excellent foundation.”
Utah is an ideal location to implement such a program, Brain says, because of the diversity of crops grown across the state and because the local culture enthusiastically embraces the idea of supporting local efforts.
“There’s also a lot of local concern about Utah’s air quality,” she says. “Utahns recognize that anything we can do to reduce ‘food miles’ is a step toward improving our air and health.”
Brain, Curtis and Hall are developing training sessions for farmers and restaurateurs. They're also planning “meet and greet” events for growers and restaurant owners at several locations throughout the state in 2013.