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‘Farm to Fork’ Mission Brings Corporations, Cooks and Farmers Together

September 22, 2011
Schrecengost explaining his harvest

Bon Appétit, food service management for corporations like Target and Medtronic and colleges such as Macalester, St. Olaf, Carleton, and Northwestern, hosted a ‘Farmers’ Market For Chefs’ event to create lasting synergetic partnerships with immigrant and local farmers. The Minnesota Project’s Local Foods Coordinator, Theresa Heiland, approached Bon Appétit’s District Manager, David Ramlow, in hopes of creating new markets for area farmers. The idea was an immediate fit as Bon Appétit’s ‘Farm to Fork’ mission aims to serve 20% local food to their professional and student clients.

Through this initiative, the chefs and dining service directors were able to shake the very hands of the people who harvest the produce they’ll use in their future meals. For beginning farmers like Viviane Yang and Mee Bao, talking directly to the chefs and assessing company’s needs gives them a clearer sense of what they need to grow next year in the three acre plot they acquired through the Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota.

Viviane Yang (center) negotiating and planning for next year

Even though the growing season is short in Minnesota, being an organic farmer poses other difficulties that don’t exactly involve the weather. According to Rodrigo Cala, an immigrant from Mexico who now resides and farms in Turtle Lake, WI and drove 80 miles to attend the meeting, finding markets to sell his crops is the hardest part of his work.

Nathan Schrecengost of Stone’s Throw Urban Farms echoed this sentiment by mentioning the risks associated with just selling at farmers’ markets as, “Every week it changes. One week you don’t have enough basil, the next week you pick double and you don’t sell any of it. Other weeks people are out of town or it’s raining so no one comes.”

Chef Hansen meeting with the farmers

In order for farmers to be able to focus on their farming and not have to seek supplemental income, solid partnerships with companies such as Bon Appétit offer a steady market. Alex Liebman, also of Stone’s Throw, looks forward to working with the company because, “They’re progressive, cognizant, offer a good price, and are able to change their menus to accommodate what we can give them.”

Northwestern’s Head Chef, John Hansen has such a passion for food and enjoys that he can change the menu according to the produce available from the farmers. Hansen likes the unstructured environment to utilize his creativity and explains, “We don’t make pre-made food. It doesn’t take talent to open a bag and heat it up.”

Not only does this partnership let the farmers and chefs focus on their trades, this business practice has made Bon Appétit one of the most premier food management companies in the country through the importance they place on quality ingredients, taste, fairness, farmers, and community. Ramlow expressed that it is important for food service to be part of the culture and communities of their businesses because, “Breaking bread together is important and we want to provide that opportunity for the [people] we serve.”

This Minnesota Project local foods initiative funded by the St. Paul foundation is part of ongoing work to connect farmers to new local markets. This partnership is also made possible with the work of Farmers’ Legal Action Group, the Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota, and the Minnesota Food Association.

Local food means farmers, businesses, students, and professionals win.. That’s pretty much everyone.

Photos also by Valerie Steffl

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