Pick Tennessee’s Outreach Program

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Terra Mae, located on 10th Street inside The Dwell Hotel, is one of several Chattanooga restaurants interested in showcasing a menu with food that is grown right here in Tennessee. “When I go to a farm, I get inspired by what I can buy, then come back here and it might appear on the menu that very night,” says Terra Mae Restaurant executive chef, Hardin Cowan, as he reconstitutes a pan of risotto made with vegetable stock using carrots gleaned from the day’s harvest at Crabtree Farms.

The downtown bistro has recently joined other eateries in the state who are members of an organization that connects restaurateurs and farmers in the Volunteer State—the Pick Tennessee Farm and Restaurant Alliance. “The Alliance has two objectives,” says Linda Shelton, program director for Pick Tennessee Products. “To start with, it serves as an outreach initiative to bring together Tennessee produce growers with chefs building networks and establishing relationships. This makes the procurement of local farm ingredients on menus more simple and available.”

“Secondly,” Shelton notes, “the program enhances the visibility of these locally grown menus and promotes to the consumer those restaurants that are buying from farmers.” It’s this symbiotic relationship between chef and farmer that helps the community as a whole.

The concept is practiced regularly by well known Pick Tennessee farmer, Tom O’Neal of Signal Mountain Farm, who has been farming for 20 years and has been providing organic produce to a handful of established Chattanooga restaurants for many of those. “I have long-running relationships with many of the chefs here in town, so business with them is easy and beneficial for both of us. I’m able to offer a wide variety of produce to supply their restaurants adequately,” says O’Neal. Some of Signal Mountain Farm’s customers include chefs from Public House, Easy Bistro, Il Primo and the new Fiamma in North Chattanooga. “Our organic tomatoes are one of the most sought after foods that we grow— restaurants like to brag about them on their menu,” adds O’Neal.

And now, The Tennessee Farm and Restaurant Alliance is looking for more farms and restaurateurs to join the ranks. Membership in the Alliance, which is free, says something about a person’s dedication to buying local, Shelton notes.

“It shows they care about providing their customers with a fresh product with superior color, taste and texture compared to ingredients picked too early and shipped from far away. This, in turn, translates into a better tasting, more attractive meal for their customers.”

And Tennessee is a good fit for this program. The geography and topography here provide more diverse crops than many other places in the country. The Tennessee temperature plus adaptable hoop houses and furthered technology have expanded the growing season here to nearly 9 months out of the year. The opportunity to support farms, particularly smaller farms, by connecting them with an emerging culinary scene in Tennessee cities such as Chattanooga is what grew into the Pick Tennessee Farm and Restaurant Alliance. Solid relationships with farmers who can provide a dependable supply of seasonal foods are essential to an eatery’s survival and a chef’s success.

Cowan is a Chattanooga native who received his culinary training at the International Culinary Center in New York. Buying from farms in Tennessee makes a statement, Cowan says. “It lets everyone know that we’re interested in serving the best possible foods to our customers and that we want to be supportive of our local food purveyors.”

Diners can download the Pick Tennessee Mobile App to utilize the Farm and Restaurant Directory when dining out. Visit PickTNProducts.org for more. Promotional support by Pick Tennessee.

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Anne Braly is a frequent contributor to Chattanooga Magazine.

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