The popularity of farmers’ markets and local produce is making an indelible impact on restaurant menus. Dishes made with locally sourced vegetables, fruits, meats, cheeses and dairy products continue to inspire chefs and garner praise from customers and restaurant owners.

Large food distributors transport fruits and vegetables 1,500 miles on average in the United States to reach their final destination.[1] Locally grown foods significantly reduce the time and fuel costs associated with transportation as well as the need for preservatives and pesticides.

While there is no official definition of what constitutes “local,” most proponents view locally sourced ingredients as those food items raised, produced and distributed within 100 to 150 miles of where they are marketed and used.[2] Shorter distances from farm to table mean local foods are generally fresher, more nutritious and thus more appealing to health-conscious consumers.

Purchasing locally produced foods supports local farms and communities and keeps money flowing in the local economy. It also provides greater opportunities for restaurant owners to forge longstanding relationships with nearby farmers and markets.

Buying local encourages chefs to focus on the seasonality of food items and develop menu items that are available only for a short time. This can drive innovative approaches in the kitchen and create exclusive dining experiences for restaurant customers.

Some chefs are using local ingredients to create in-house sauces, condiments, pickled vegetables, cheeses and charcuterie items including bacon, sausage, ham and other cooked meats.[3] Signature sauces and condiments are often sold to enable customers to extend their dining experience into their own homes.

In some areas, restaurant owners and chefs are turning to “hyper-local” food sourcing by growing produce on their own property, usually in a backyard or a rooftop garden. Many of these gardens are created without soil and employ hydroponic or aquaponic cultivation independent of climate conditions.[4]

Hyper-local restaurants enable chefs to have total control over the origin, freshness and treatment of the ingredients they use, from seedling to finished dish. Restaurant owners find it economical to grow produce on-site, creating both fresher ingredients and less waste. Restaurant staff can answer questions about menu ingredients and their sources with greater confidence.

[1] “10 Reasons Why Your Restaurant Should Use Locally Sourced Food,” by Annie Pilon, Small Business Trends blog, Aug. 28, 2017. Available at: https://smallbiztrends.com/2017/08/locally-sourced-food.html

[2] “Should You Choose Locally Sourced Food for Your Restaurant?” by Nora Fulmer, WebstaurantStore blog, undated. Available at: https://www.webstaurantstore.com/blog/1588/local-sourcing-for-seasonal-menus.html

[3] Expect more African flavors, new cuts of meat, housemade charcuterie in 2017,” by Bret Thorn, Nation’s Restaurant News, Dec. 9, 2016. Available at: http://www.nrn.com/food-trends/expect-more-african-flavors-new-cuts-meat-housemade-charcuterie-2017

[4] “Hyper-Local Restaurants: Growing Produce in Your Own Backyard,” by Nora Fulmer, WebstaurantStore blog, undated. Available at: https://www.webstaurantstore.com/blog/780/hyper-local-restaurants-growing-produce-in-your-own-backyard.html

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