When I travel, I am always curious to discover how small farmers are doing in the regions I visit. I try to go to the Farmers Markets or even to the farms themselves, if they are open to the public. On a recent trip to North Carolina and Tennessee (yes, the family reunion was afoot), I found a great reciprocal relationship between local restaurants and local farms. Each was helping the other deliver a great food experience to their customers.
Depending on the season, a restaurant will work with several local farms, picking two or three items that are currently being harvested. They will use those ingredients to create a unique dish which they feature on that night’s menu. The names and places of the farms are then displayed on the menu. Customers visit the restaurants knowing that they are supporting local businesses and that they are going to eat really well.
After doing this for several seasons, customers now specifically patronize these restaurants because they feature local farms. Patrons routinely ask which farms have contributed to that night’s meal. As the restaurants have been educating their customers about local farms, customers have come to expect great food from them. The restaurants still serve a regular menu year-round, sourcing their ingredients from multiple places, but the locally-sourced ingredients are what are pulling customers in.
I stopped at a pizzeria that was featuring locally-produced mozzarella from an organic dairy. When in season, they also included farm fresh vegetables from a different producer. In other words, they had at least something from a local farm on the menu all the time. The quality of their pizzas and the volume of patrons they had in their restaurant on a Monday night were amazing. I certainly had more slices than I probably should have.
Building relationships between growers of food and creators of cuisine can lead to a more robust economic environment for both parties. In the southern Appalachian Mountains, I found this system to be not only mutually beneficial, but quite tasty, too.