Monthly Archives: April 2012

Sustainable Food Systems Paper: Bozeman Farm to Restaurants

 

Bozeman restaurants serving local food

 

Introduction:

            Most people do not make a conscious chose about what food they eat, based on location.  Due to new farming technologies, and research, humans have evolved to be able to grow food in mass quantities throughout the world, and are able to supply the wants and needs of billions. After the industrial revolution and the new advances in agriculture, human population has been doubling.  Never before have so many people been oblivious about where their food comes from, how it’s farmed, and who farmed it. People do not have to worry about where they will get food, because farmers have mastered the art of large-scale production; food is so abundant and available compared to any other time in history. Only one percent of the people in America farm, this is also a new fact in history, never before has the responsibility of farming been in the hands of so few people. 

            With these new farming technologies, comes new food products.  Cheaper farming has reduced the price of certain items, such as corn, soy, and wheat.  Because these products are cheaper, food producers can add more ingredients to plain foods to increase calories.  Bread for example, which has been a fundamental staple food for the past ten thousand years, is now being associated with rising levels of obesity because of the sugars and new ingredients being added. (Fresco)

            These new farming and food technological advances are not a bad thing; humans are using the available resources to the best of their ability to provide food to billions of people.  This is wonderful, and really shows the power of humans, and the impact on the world.  But a counter movement has risen, and it is growing in numbers every year. This new movement is interested with small-scale farming, sustainable or organic farming, local farming; the ability to grow or raise food in a way that doesn’t impact the environment in a negatively. These people in this “counter movement” would like to see food production switch from large scale monoculture farming to a smaller scale of farming, in which farmers in surrounding communities would provide the food in a general area.  This idea comes about from the traditional ways of farming, when people either had a direct relationship with the farmer and or farmed themselves because it was the only way to eat food, to survive.  But, one must remember that those ideas are from the past, human’s existence now cannot survive without large-scale farming.  Yet, there can be a way to do both.  The idea of implementing small farms around the world to feed local communities and ignoring large ones is a fallacy, it is not possible, there are 3 billion people living in cities throughout the world, there is no way to feed these people through farmers markets and such. But a mix of both small and large scale is good, and what is even better is regional farming.  Farmers growing food and selling it to near by regions, for example, Montana customers buying apples farmed in Washington instead of the East Coast and Washington customers buying Montana beef instead of beef from the East Coast.  Regional farming is in-between local and large-scale farming, different regions benefit from each others different growing season, and work with one another to provide food while lowering shipping costs, and keeping the product fresh.

            It seems a lot of new food business such as restaurants and grocery stores are focusing on these new ideas.  There is a nitch market that is growing, and these people are demanding food that is grown sustainably, and close to home.  Many restaurants in downtown Bozeman Montana are doing just that.  These restaurants are trying to source local as well as regional ingredients to cut down transportation costs, and increase the quality of the food.  This has given rise to new farmers and new markets for farmers to fill; this is how local farming can work. 

 

Methods:

            For this research project, I wanted to focus on the benefits and disadvantages of restaurants supporting local agriculture.  I myself am studding Sustainable Food Systems in college, and found this topic very interesting. The way I conducted this research was by interviewing different restaurant owners and managers in Bozeman that I knew supported local agriculture.  I wanted to find out why they followed this traditional idea of sourcing their products locally, and if there were any drawbacks or fallacies within this unique and unfamiliar specialty business. I came of with a list of questions that obtained the most useful information for my project.

           

  1. Do you support local agriculture? (Montana)
  2. Who do you buy your products from?
  3. On average, how much of your menu consists of local food annually?
  4.             During what time of year are you able to purchase the most local food? What made your decide to support local agriculture?
  5. What are the benefits of supporting local food for your business?
  6. Have you had any problems with local farmers? As far as supply and demand, price, or lack of professionalism
  7. What is your highest selling local food item?
  8. If you have just recently started buying local, have you noticed a change in customer satisfaction, an increase in sales, or just the type of customer visiting your business?  New Target market
  9. Do you wish you could buy more local food?            Different varieties?
  10. What are the drawbacks of purchasing local food?
  11. Have you done any cooperative work with local farmers to help keep your relationship strong and consistent? Contracts?
  12. Do you go to the farms, or do the farms come to you? Network?

 

            As the interviews went on, I would change some of the questions to best suit whom I was talking to. For instance, when I interviewed Mason, the manager at Ted’s Montana Grill, I immediately found out they only buy local meat, and only buy it when prices are low.  But Mason had actually started 2 sustainable restaurants that sourced local food in Vermont before moving to Montana.  One of his restaurants was using 97% local food, so we ended up just chatting for a half hour on that topic, and it turned out to be very informative. 

            My original goal was to interview every restaurant in Bozeman, but turns out there are over 100 of them, then I decided I would try to interview every restaurant in downtown Bozeman, there were 40 or so of those.  I decided I did not need to interview every restaurant, because I figured I would hear the same reasons of supporting local agriculture, it would be redundant.  So what I did was call every downtown restaurant and asked if they used any local ingredients in their menu, simple yes or no answer.  Then I went to as many of the restaurants that bought local food as I could and interviewed the owners or managers.  I wasn’t able to interview all the places I wanted to, but the ones I did were very informative and helpful.  Here is a list of the people and places I interviewed.

 

Mason at Ted’s Montana Grill

Matt Muth at 406 Brewery

Serena Rundberg at The Nova Café

Kevin at Cat Eye Café

A brief interview with Alba at La Tinga

 

            I visited other restaurants such as Plonk, Ale Works, Sola, and Black Bird but was unable to meet with an owner or manager because they were either closed, not in town, or to busy.   Turns out, of the 38 restaurants in Bozeman, 14 supported local farmers.

 

Results: Environmental

 

            Many of the restaurant owners/ managers had many different reasons why they supported local agriculture.  One of the topics that they all shared was the environmental benefit.  Now I want to make it clear that local does not mean environmentally friendly.  Anyone can call himself or herself local if they grow food for their community, but the farmers that practice sustainable farming methods usually receive a higher demand for their products.  Serena at The Nova told me that she takes here employees and chiefs out on field trips to the farms she supports, this way the workers get to see how the food their serving is grown and prepared.  Serena is aware of the farmers growing techniques, and is sure not to support anyone practicing harmful farming.

            Another environmental aspect of supporting local food is the reduction of shipping costs, which reduce the amount of gas used and CO2 pumped into the atmosphere.  For instance, the average carrot travels 1,838 miles before it reaches a dinner table.(sustainable.org)  Ale works created a contract with Gallatin Valley Botanical in which the restaurant bought the farm a root vegetable cleaner, and harvesting attachment for their tractor, and in turn, the farm has agreed to supply the restaurant with a consistent supply of carrots.  It’s a win win situation, the farmers get new tools they can use for crops other than carrots, and the restaurant now has a consistent fresh supply of carrots at a reasonable cost. 

            Supporting local agriculture does reduce environmental impacts byusing less fossil fuel to transport food.  And if your supporting your local sustainable farmer, then the use of synthetic pesticides, and fertilizers are reduced, which are harmful to ecosystems.  All the meat farms that Nova supports minimize the use of hormones and antibiotics which also help the environment because when those antibiotics are released into an ecosystem, they can create super bacteria that could cause a much bigger problem then anything we have seen today.  There are a lot of bacteria resistant to the antibiotics we use today, and if we keep giving livestock huge unnecessary doses of antibiotics then a bacteria could evolve and wipe out entire herds of animals.

 

Results: Social

 

            One of the biggest reasons why restaurants buy local food is because it creates a sense of relationship between the customer, chief, and farmer all at once.  This bond brings communities together in a unique way.  It brings people back to that traditional lifestyle that I mentioned before, where everyone knew who was growing their food.  Knowing the farmer can give people knowledge about growing food that they may have never known before, things like when certain foods are in season and how it can affect price.  Or how the weather can determine if certain crops will be available.  It also opens people’s eyes about our current food system, and how things can and should change.  Supporting local gives people that extra sense of knowledge, and respect for farming, which is really lacking in today’s society. Its great when a customer can approach and chat with a farmer at a farmers market because he or she tried their food at a restaurant.  When a chief prepares a delicious meal with local ingredients, it can per sway the customer to support those farmers’ products in the future.

            Building relations ships between the restaurants owners and chiefs and the farmers help create affective networks where restaurants get their product consistently, and farmers have a consistent market to sell to, and less food goes to waste.  Mason at Ted’s Montana Grill mentioned that setting up local networks is one of the most important things to do as a restaurant owner, it takes more time compared to dealing with FSA or Sysco, but in the end you have a fresher, tastier product that keeps the customers coming back for more.

 

Results Economic

 

            The most critical reason I found why restaurants support local agriculture was because of the money that could be made and saved.  There is a growing market of people who want to support local food, most of the time these folks are willing to spend a bit more money for it.  This works in favor for restaurants because sometimes certain products are cheaper when purchased local and in season.  When food is in season, it is fresher and tastes better making the chiefs job easier, and if the food tastes good then customers will always come back for more. 

            When a restaurant buys directly from the farmer, then the farmer receives more money because there is no middleman.  So the farmer is making more profit on his or her product than if he or she was to sell it to a distributor.  Also, like I stated before, buying local reduces transportation costs, which restaurant owners must pay when buying from FSA or Sysco.  This makes the cost of buying local comparable to other conventional food distributor prices.

            Finally, when a restaurant purchases food from a local farmer, the money stays within the local economy.  Jobs can be created within these economies that support these farm to restaurant relationships, such as the Western Sustainability Exchange, which helps publicize farmers who practice sustainable farming methods.  New small sized distributors can be created such as Field Day Farms.  Field Day Farms purchases food from surround farms at a fair price, and sells the food online to grocery stores, restaurants, and anyone who is interested.  Serena at The Nova mentioned to me that she deals with Field Day’s website a lot, and has made her life easier.  Small distributors like this help by creating more time for farmers to farm, and more time for chiefs to cook. 

 

Disadvantages

 

            There is a reason why not all restaurants support local, and why no restaurant in Bozeman is 100% local.   One main reason is due to the short growing season in the surrounding area. Mason from Ted’s told me his restaurants he started in Vermont at one point were using 97% local food.  No one comes close to this in Bozeman because Vermont has a longer growing season, and different mixes of microclimates in the area.  An example Mason explained was strawberries for instance were ripe in different areas of Vermont throughout the year, so when one farm was out, a farm up the road would just start its harvest.  Restaurants need quality products on a consistent basis, unless they build their menus as the seasons change, like Blackbird’s kitchen.  It is not possible for a restaurant in Bozeman to have local tomatoes all season long.  But there are certain products that are constantly available in Montana, such as eggs, beef, potatoes, and bread.  The Nova cafe does just that, if you purchase their standard breakfast for around 6 dollars, you get eggs and toast from Bozeman, sausage from Big Timber, and home fires from Whitehall.  For some restaurant owners its just easier to deal with big distributors like FSA, Alba at La Tinga mentioned that she tried to buy some local produce for her business, but it was to time consuming, she needed a consistent product at a reasonable price.

 

Conclusion

 

            Supporting local food takes more time and effort to establish networks between farmers and restaurants. But in the end you’re given a higher quality product, which tastes better, and is sometimes cheaper than the conventional competition.  Supporting local helps build local economies, and keeps money within the community.  Buying from local farmers allows them to make more money from their work, and reduces environmental impacts of transportation.  I feel as this new “traditional food movement” grows, we will see more local farmers starting up, and give rise to a more regional food movement, because some states just cannot grow certain things that neighboring states can.  This will create more jobs, and may increase the amount of people growing our nations food, which would be a good thing. Not everyone will jump onboard this idea, but that’s the beauty of living in a country where you can choose what to eat.  I hope this paper opens people’s minds to the benefits of supporting local food, and keeps the ball rolling.  One day, I want a farm of my own, and I want to feed my surrounding community with fresh food at a low cost.  This research has helped me realize the possibilities of future food production, and the path in which the world must take to feed the growing population. 

LAST BLOG… for class

I grew up in a household with many different biases and values.  My father grew up in a tough side of town, my mother grew up in a nice part of town, both in Massachusetts. This gave me perspectives on both sides of the spectrum of social, and behavioral values.  I feel like I grew up lucky, my family has never had to worry about putting food on the table, money for school and other benefits.  But I feel like I don’t take things for granted as well.  I really appreciate the things I have, and I also feel like I make strong investments, and I don’t waste my money on things I don’t need.  I also grew up with a lot of animals, all the time. My mother also gardened every year, and made her own jams, sauces, and salsa.  Food was always an important part of my life. These mixed multicultural values and biases paved the way to my future, and what I am studding in school.  I’m very interested with the food system, and growing food.  I’ve seen how food can tighten relationships, and bring people together.

            Growing up in the sticks in New Hampshire, it pretty much pushed me away to find new places, and meet new people.  Having family and friends in Massachusetts made it possible for me to visit the city of Boston all the time.  So this mix of multicultural areas really opened my eyes.  Eventually I would like to have a farm and be able to sell my food to a big city, and neighboring towns.  I want to educate people on the benefits of eating local food.  Food is something that should never be taken for granted, and I feel a lot of people do. 

SNAP needs to change

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides low/no-income people/families living in the US assistance with food purchasing.  The average person gets around $133 per month.  There were 46,224,722 people on SNAP as of October 2011.  This costs taxpayers $65 billion in 2011.  And the amount of people joining this program is only growing. So, one would think, there must be a lot of hungry people in the US; the strongest country in the world.  But, there is also a rising obesity issue spreading throughout our country. Obesity is constantly rising as well.  So as SNAP usage increases, there is a direct correlation to the rise of obesity.

The reason for this odd correlation is due to the types of food people are buying while on food stamps.  There is direct evidence linking strong sugary drinks with obesity.  And yes, you can buy soda with food stamps.  Taxpayer’s money is being used by a large parentage of US citizens to consume free soda, which increases the change of becoming obese, which also leads to health problems such as heart attack, diabetes, cancer; which then causes more tax payer money to be used to help these individuals fix their problem through Medicaid.  One study pointed out that Medicaid kids are 6 times more likely to be treated for severe obesity compared to kids with private insurance.

SNAP needs to be reformed.  Items like bubble gum, soda, pork rinds and other unhealthy foods should not be available through SNAP.  Not saying that people on SNAP can’t buy these foods, it’s a free country, everyone is granted the freedom to purchase what they want in a free market. But money from taxpayers, 65 billion of it, should not be used to purchase these insanely unhealthy foods.  If someone wants a soda, or a candy bar, let him or her pay for it themselves, with their own hard earned money.  Another study examined the percentage of SNAP purchases were conducted at convenience stores; a whopping 15%=$11.6 billion dollars annually. That’s the problem with SNAP, its free money, and people are more prone to purchase unhealthy food with free money.  Heck, ill have a soda if it’s free, but I never buy the stuff at a store.  People make different purchasing decisions when shopping with their own hard earned cash, usually more strategic, trying to make every penny count.

A cheap way of living consists of buying the most energy rich food at the lowest cost.  And if this is what you have to do to put food on the table, then have at it.  But if someone or a family is receiving supplemental food assistance, which allows them to shop for themselves, there needs to be some regulations as to what foods can be purchased with taxpayer money.  Because when a SNAP recipient buys soda, or other unhealthy foods, it affects society as a whole in a negative way.

Being hungry is very normal; everyone should feel hungry every day.  But there are people/families that go hungry without choice, for long periods of time.  These people need assistance, and if the help is coming from taxpayer money.  Then foods that cause more harm than good should not be available for purchase through SNAP.  People can buy junk food with their own money.  Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and local foods should be at the top of the list. There are direct correlations with counties throughout the US with high percentages of SNAP users, and high obesity rates.  This is a serious problem, and things need to change.

SNAP has lead to fraud as well. People sign up with fake names, and can sell the cards, or food for cash, and sometimes drugs.  One year 2.7 billion dollars in SNAP funds were the victim of fraud.

Yet some people think everything is just fine, like this guy.