“American diners increasingly crave food grown in their own region, rather than delicacies trucked or flown in from far-off locales.” –The National Restaurant Association
Over the years, the National Restaurant Association has researched trends in the restaurant arena. Local food and source-identified meats and seafood have spiked the charts in recent years. And after seeing the 2016 results this week, I don’t see this as a fad– I see this as a long-term movement. As Greg mentioned in his post last year, “Many people have dismissed the local food movement as a fad that will soon pass, saying that there are too many challenges for small and medium sized Maryland farmers to compete in the global economy. That opinion might change as more local, regional, and national institutions get involved in the local food movement.”
Fresh vegetables and less of the “weird stuff” (unpronounceable additives and processed foods) are what consumers are asking for again in 2016. Add to that wanting more locally sourced food and humanely raised meats and seafood, and the results for this year, provide more opportunities for farmers to take advantage of.
Check out the “Top 10” in the 2016 National Restaurant Association Survey Results, 4 out of the ten apply to many Maryland farmers: locally sourced meats and seafood (#1!), locally grown produce, hyper-local sourcing, and natural ingredients/minimally processed food. Look a little lower on the list and you see phrases like “ancient grains”, making it to the “Top 20”. Add to that, the “Movers and Shakers” list (below): hyper-local sourcing (again), locally produced beer/wine/spirits, artisanal butchery, and non-traditional eggs (duck, quail, emu) are on the list.
It doesn’t look like the demand for local food is going anywhere soon, reporting that it is at the top of the chart and it will remain a perennial favorite.
Many Maryland farmers are ahead of the curve. In Maryland, we are fortunate to have farmers creatively catering to consumer demands with a wide variety of meats available in different cuts. Most meats, individually cut or “snout-to-tail” order, are available year-round.
A “root-to-stalk” mentality is also catching on. Chefs are using the beet greens to the beets, and the whole cabbage down to the core, in effort to reduce waste and maximize the crop.
Our regions farmers are in a good position to get more of the food they produce into restaurants, with over 90 varieties of produce grown in our soils and climate year-round. Add to that local cheese, milk, and ice cream products; flours, rice, and Chesapeake Bay seafood products- all produced right here by local farmers and watermen- and you have a full diet of foods. We are lucky to live in a state that affords us fertile land and ample water supply to produce such variety and quality of products. We are also fortunate to live within close proximity to highly touted and busy restaurants.
Points to Ponder
Though farmers seem to be brimming with product, sourcing from local farms still seems to be difficult for Maryland restaurants. Those restaurants that are doing it well have it closely linked to the ethos of their restaurant.
- Sourcing local is still a difficult thing to find in Maryland outside of the major cities and towns. Restaurant pioneers, such as Waterfront Kitchen (Baltimore), Preserve Eats (Annapolis), and Volt (Frederick) are walking-the-walk though.
- There is growing demand for value-added agriculture products, and businesses such as, HEX Ferments and Millstone Cidery, are committed to working direct with Maryland farmers. Attend the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s annual Buyer-Grower Expo on January 20, 2015 in Annapolis, MD, designed for growers and processors to connect with buyers (grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, schools, etc.).
- There has been a growing interest in local meats in Maryland too. Sales are up for Southern Maryland Meats. Having the right tools in your tool belt to market your meats is important to this success, and there is a great resource available through University of Maryland to assist farmers.
- Check out the SMSG Buyer Grower Facebook Page. This new page is engaging chefs and farmers online and offline (through periodic gatherings), who have or need fresh farm food. If you are a farmer in the region looking for new markets or if you are a chef looking for local food, consider joining the page.
I have hopefully provided some trending information and ways you might be able to connect (or prepare yourself to connect) with new outlets. If you are a farmer reading this right now, what do you need to help take advantage of this opportunity to get your product to the chef? What are the obstacles you face? Chefs, what do you need from local farmers? Let us know and let’s keep this conversation going, share your thoughts with us on the Maryland FarmLINK Facebook page.