When Andrea Maunder and her husband opened Bacalao restaurant on Lemarchant Road in St. John’s four years ago, it was a real challenge to find local farmers to supply their kitchen with fresh produce and protein.
Maunder had to call around to farms to find out what they sold, and how much they had to sell, to try to ensure reliable suppliers for their new business.
“I spent months making those connections (with local farms) because it was really, really important to me,” Maunder told The Telegram Tuesday. “We have a plethora of beautiful, local stuff (grown) here in Newfoundland, more and more now than ever and it really needs to be showcased.”
She’s amazed just a few short years later, chefs and farmers from around the province were meeting to talk about their industries co-operating. That meeting took place Tuesday at Lester Farms Chalet on Pearltown Road, Mount Pearl, with much talk toward forming a network of restaurants and farms which supply them.
By the time Maunder spoke to The Telegram just after noon, she had already been approached by a beef farmer from the Grand Falls-Windsor area who has local, certified organic beef for sale and a local organic blueberry farmer about supplying Bacalao.
“That is a perfect example of what is so important about Tuesday’s conference,” she said.
Beyond the co-operation, Maunder said eating local has many benefits.
It’s environmentally sustainable — as less shipping means a smaller carbon footprint, the food is fresher and therefore more nutritious and it supports the local economy.
While some may complain that local food is more expensive, Maunder points out a container of local lettuce may last a week or two in your fridge, while imported lettuce starts going bad the day after it is bought because it’s been sitting around on a truck.
“It’s how we used to eat 100 years ago, and it’s really how we should be eating now,” she said. “You eat what’s in season, what’s fresh and local and supplement that with (some imported food.)”
Jim Lester, who hosted the event on his farm, said agriculture is still relatively small scale in this province. But he said it’s a lot of work to market local produce and meats.
Lester said chain restaurants demand more paper work on behalf of the farmer, but dealing with smaller, local restaurants cuts down on the amount.
He’s in favour of a network of growers and chefs and says it will have a big advantage for farmers.
“It ... enables the farmer to ... target what they grow for a specific market and enable them to get a premium price for their premium product,” Lester said.
Lester’s farm supplies local lamb, pork, and a host of vegetables to local restaurants.
He said customers are now pressuring restaurants to have more local fare on the menu and some restaurants cross promote the farms by stating on their menus where ingredients come from.
Lester said both groups have to work together to lobby for needed changes to the province’s agriculture regulations and encourage co-operation between restaurants and farms.
Better regulations, he said, will support three industries — agriculture, restaurants and tourism, as many people want to eat local fare when they travel.
Brent Warner is an agricultural and marketing consultant from British Columbia and was the guest speaker at Tuesday’s meeting.
“This is going on everywhere, all over the world,” Warner said of the eat local movement.
But he said the movement is still the incubation stage in this province.
He said most provincial regulations still view agriculture land as simply for production but that’s not the reality anymore as farms move into secondary processing, or add things like farmers markets or bakeries to their operations.
“We’ve created one, and now two generations that think food only comes in a bag at a store. They don’t know anything about farms (but) we are on the cusp of flipping that over,” said Warner.
He said with growing concerns over obesity and a move towards health living, now is the time to work towards a culture of eating local.