One wears boots likely to be covered with mud—just mud, if you’re lucky. This one talks in terms of bushels, rows, inputs, hoop houses, weather conditions and seasons.
Both are picky and passionate and proud of what they do, and they both talk all the time about the same thing: food. Farmers who grow it and chefs who cook it share so much. It’s a match made in heaven, but like all those folks who’ve turned over their love lives to digital matchmaking services, you have to meet somebody before you can fall in love and commit. There’s a problem of proximity.
There’s also a culture and language barrier, and technically, some math. If the farmer says, “I have three bushels of green beans,” and the chef says, “I need to feed three hundred people,” are the bushels greater than or less than the amount needed to feed the three hundred?
Enter Pick Tennessee, matchmaker to Tennessee’s food growers and food eaters for 30 years. The state department of agriculture’s flagship consumer program, Pick Tennessee Products, is adding a new feature to their free mobile app, used up until now for citizens on the go to find a particular farm product, market, or farm activity closest to them, plus the GPS mapping to get them there.
Restaurant food buyers—usually the house chef—often struggle alone to increase the amount of locally grown items on their menus. “Over the years, consistency has been a problem,” says Susan Moses, chef and co-owner of 212 Market Restaurant in Chattanooga. “Some years we would have an over supply of shiitake mushrooms, for example, the next year maybe none. Now there are many different farms coming on board and that makes it easier.”
Under the Pick Tennessee umbrella, the Farm and Restaurant Alliance hopes to open the door for both sectors to connect and work together to enhance the availability of local vegetables and meats for the increasing number of people who want local and artisan quality foods when dining out. Moses has been a board member of the Restaurant Alliance for almost two years and thinks the initiative will help farmers understand how to make appropriate connections with chefs.
Issues of distribution are also critical for chefs. Moses now takes advantage of a Benwood Foundation funded project called Food Hub that delivers local produce, saving her a great deal of time.
The new Restaurant Alliance marketing and outreach campaign was planted, if you will, to encourage connections and it includes “farmer-to-chef” workshops held in several cities across the state. During the first round of seminars, area farmers and food service professionals were invited to come spend a day together to meet each other, talk about what their lives are like, learn how to speak each other’s language, and hopefully learn to do successful business together. Efforts included educational materials and workbooks for chefs and farmers to take back to kitchens and farms.
The ultimate point of forming the alliance is to foster relationships between Tennessee’s foods service operations and Tennessee farmers, making local sourcing more functional for both and increasing locally grown foods on Tennessee restaurant menus. Starting this summer, Pick Tennessee followers can begin looking up restaurants committed to using local products.
“To assist consumers, Pick Tennessee Products (PTP) is providing a website and mobile app listing of Tennessee restaurants that are locally sourcing their produce and other items from a Tennessee Farmer,” says Tennessee Department of Agriculture marketing specialist, Linda Shelton. “The PTP campaign has helped consumers identify and choose Tennessee produced agricultural products since 1986 and has earned the reputation for its high quality standards.”
Lonely farmers and chefs still seeking a local connection can go to PickTnProducts.org and click on “About Us” to find an application.