More meals than ever before are being eaten outside the home. That’s great news for small operators and farmers like ourselves, who might supply farm-to-table restaurants in town. We’ve seen this trend even come to our rural area of Wisconsin with the recent opening of the local-food-sourcing restaurant, Black Walnut Kitchen, on Monroe, Wisconsin’s Historic Downtown Square. This restaurant regularly buys our Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B’s summer squash, basil, garlic and potatoes. The seriously dedicated chef and owner sources ingredients from other farms in the area, too. They recognize these farms as “local partners” on their website and in their menu.
Earlier this year, I traveled with my husband-photographer John Ivanko to Chicago to attend the National Restaurant Association Show, the largest annual gathering of foodservice professionals in the world. The event drew 65,000 attendees and covered more than 700,000 square feet of exhibit space, so there was plenty to taste, sample and drink. It’s an invaluable experience for us to get off the farm and experience what’s new on the national food scene. And good news: those bigger national food trends support and celebrate all things local and small farm!
“Local, vegetable-forward, and ethnic-inspired menu items will reign supreme on menus in the upcoming year,” says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research of the National Restaurant Association. “Guests are implementing these trends in their own lifestyles and want to see them reflected in the food they eat at restaurants. In response, chefs are creating more items in-house and turning to global flavors to infuse their menus.” This means more restaurants than ever before might be cruising the local farmers’ markets or exploring ways to buy direct from your farm.
Here’s a few of our new culinary finds we’ve seen this past year, found both at the National Restaurant Association Show and popping up at grocery stores and restaurants around the country.
The NON-GMO Project Verified certification signs continue to be plentiful, up and down the aisles of the National Restaurant Association Show, fueling a growing commitment to transparency on the part of many producers. Of course, this is driven by increasing consumer interest, especially amongst millennials, on wanting to know where their food comes from and how it’s made.
A mainstay in many homestead kitchens like ours, the spectacular array of organic-certified spices, herbs and seasonings from Frontier Co-op were also showcased on the tradeshow floor to entice food service and institutional buyers as well. The Frontier Co-op was at the show to reach out to chefs, restaurant owners and foodservice directors, perhaps unfamiliar with the fact that they’ve been a cooperatively owned wholesaler of natural and organic products since 1976, offering the best selection of NON-GMO Project Verified, Fair Trade and certified-organic herbs in the country.
It’s not surprising that at the National Restaurant Association Show, we meet many of the visionary food entrepreneurs who identified these important food issues, years ago, before they became so hip. Such was the case with Sandy Solmon, founder and CEO of Sweet Street, a made-from-scratch bakery that started with Solmon baking in her 2-bay garage in 1979 in Reading, Pennsylvania.
“In developing our products, I learned that there are literally hundreds of GMOs in baking ingredients, from the chocolate to baking powder and corn starch. I had no clue and was shocked,” shares Solmon, whose Manifesto Gluten-Free Brownie made with dark Honduran chocolate sourced from a women’s cocoa collective won a 2018 FABI (Food and Beverage Innovation) award from the National Restaurant Association at the show. “So ten years ago, before the trends you see today, we went on a mission to get the companies we sourced from to change their ingredients away from GMOs. The more I learned, the more I became on a mission to help others know where our food comes from.”
Heralded as the “cleanest alcohol available today,” the organic-certified, rice-based saki wine from Social, offers a light, bright and refreshing taste. It’s also gluten-free and a lighter 4 percent alcohol, lower than wine that comes in at 12 percent alcohol. Social contains no sulfites or tannins.
“Social is for the increasing number of health-conscious people who want the occasional alcoholic drink, but didn’t want all the bad after effects,” explains Courtney Criezis, Director of Sales for Social. “Instead of adding artificial ingredients, we flavor our drinks with superfoods like hibiscus, elderflower and ginger.”
On the locally-raised drinks front, Blake’s Hard Cider uses the fruit grown on their 1,000-acre fruit farm for their wide selection of unique and flavorful ciders. Made in Michigan, their Al Chavo Hard Cider is infused with habanero peppers and mango. Their WakeFire cider is made from Michigan-grown cherries, orange peel, and Blake’s apples. They’re now the fastest growing independent cider in the US for a reason.
Cod is typically not the fish associated with sustainability, but Wild Alaska Cod from Alaska Leader Seafoods is changing that. As one of the largest hook-n-line codfish companies in Alaska, they use individually baited hooks and fish in a way that least disturbs the pristine ocean floor ecosystem. Their high-quality fish is Marine Stewardship Certified (MSC) and can be found at Costco, Whole Foods Market and Publix.
Reusable Containers for Institutions and Food Service
Moving beyond disposable, compostable and recyclable take out containers, OZZI has created a system of collecting a wide range of reusable eco-containers in a controlled, safe and organized way. Just about any place that offers a “to-go” packaging in paper, plastic or Styrofoam can be switched to the OZZI O2GO machine and system.
College campuses, hospitals, corporate cafeterias and other institutions offering food service around the country are installing the O2GO machine and OZZI system for their customers to use, eliminating carry out containers, reducing waste, and saving money for the food service operator. After the meal has been consumed, the green, BPA-free plastic OZZI container is returned to the machine for a token which can be used toward another carry out meal container.
“We’ve diverted over 5 million in containers and plan to double that in the next twelve months,” shares Thomas Wright, CEO of OZZI. Technology plays a role as institutions are notified automatically when machines are full and track how much waste is reduced. “It’s not only the impact on the environment. There’s also a significant cost savings, since about seven percent of an operational budget is usually dedicated to single use disposables.” The OZZI has now averted an estimated 5 million disposable containers to date.
Lisa Kivirist, with her husband, John D. Ivanko, a photographer and drone pilot, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam and millions of ladybugs.
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