The local food movement has caught on, and consumers are demanding food grown close to home, including when they eat out. That’s left many chefs looking for local supply, but not sure where to find it.
Enter Marlene Abrams, organizational development specialist involved with Alberta Agriculture’s Dine Alberta. She’s part of a team that has designed tours to bring chefs to farms in the Edmonton area in 2008 and 2009.
This year’s tour was a vegetable tour that took chefs to four diverse operations; Happy Acres U-Pick (Spruce Grove), Sundog Organics (Edmonton), Riverbend farm (Edmonton) and Prairie Gardens (Bon Accord).
Last fall’s tour was a “protein tour” which brought chefs to producers of lamb, beef, turkey, pheasants and pork. About 65 chefs have taken a tour to date.
“The whole concept is about bringing producers and chefs together in hope that some business relationships happen,” said Abrams. “It’s hard to make connections so we’re the facilitators of that relationship.”
Abrams and her associates feel it is important to bring chefs to the farm so they can learn what products are available and develop an understanding of the producer’s side of the business. “Some chefs have never been on a farm and have no sense of what’s involved,” she said.
Abrams believes tours allow for a better understanding between producers and chefs, and the process sometimes encourages producers to become contract growers. In some cases, chefs see new varieties that they may not even know about. Some chefs are now purchasing from the farms they visited in past tours, Abrams says.
Feedback from the chefs has been positive. All who have participated in a tour said it has been a valuable experience which has enriched their understanding of local farm challenges.
Abrams says the demand for local products is here to stay. “This is not a fad or a trend. Some people have been doing it for a long time and some are just getting into it.”