When it launched five years ago, the Santa Fe Alliance’s Farm to Restaurant Project was a humble marketing program aimed at informing customers about which restaurants were buying locally. This year, with help from a grant from the Department of Agriculture, Farm to Restaurant has begun a new distribution project to facilitate restaurants acquiring food from regional suppliers. SFR sat down with Kathleen Chambers, the Alliance’s program coordinator, for the inside scoop.
SFR: Let’s talk about locavorism for a second. Why do you think locavorism is important?
I think we have a long agricultural history, and we also have foods that are particular to this region—like the green chil—that are really important to preserve that heritage seed, and that culture of the area…I come to this project as an environmentalist. And looking at peak oil and looking at GMO food and looking at all the pesticides that are used in our big agribusiness food system, that’s why I’ve wanted to participate in more of the local food and facilitate that. Because if it’s grown closer to your home, I feel like there’s less that’s going to get in the way.
And now Farm to Restaurant is upping the ante?
Yeah, it’s been basically a marketing campaign of the Santa Fe Alliance for a few years. This year, because of the funding, we’re able to really take it to the next step and help facilitate the restaurants getting local food instead of just marketing who is taking the local initiative by themselves. Of the different restaurants, some go to the farmers markets, some have their own direct relationships where a farmer delivers—there’s just all different ways that they can source local. But we just started this pilot distribution project, [in which] we’re the distribution entity, and we have a dozen producers and about a dozen restaurants, and we’re actually getting the food directly to the restaurants.
The Alliance says it envisions ‘a just and sustainable global economy created by local economies.’ How do this project and the Alliance bridge that local-global gap?
…BALLE, which is our parent organization—the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies [is] a network of smaller communities. Our Farm to Restaurant Project, and any of the work that we do here, could apply to those other communities, and BALLE helps facilitate that. And I think if you have a network of strong communities, it would create healthier global economy because each community is strengthened within themselves and doesn’t have to rely on so many outside sources.
What’s a legitimate percentage of food we can expect to see locally?
The 30 or so restaurants that participate in the marketing campaign had to fill out a questionnaire, and we asked them that: What percentage of their food costs goes to local food? There were some that said 65 percent; there are some that are like 95 percent; there are some that [buying local is] their business model; but then there are some that are just getting their feet wet, so to speak, so it brings the average down. So on average, of the 30 restaurants that participate in Farm to Restaurant, 25 percent of their food costs goes to local food. And we definitely want to see that higher. I mean, I think that’s commendable, but that’s where we’re trying to help.
What other changes do you think we’d need to see to get those numbers up?
Well, I know, as far as protein goes, we don’t have any slaughterhouses in New Mexico. I’ve heard that that’s a big challenge. And, as many restaurant chefs will say, you go out to eat—and some vegetarians may argue with this—but you go out to eat, and it’s that center of the plate—I think that’s what they called it. The center of the plate is what you pay that top dollar for.
Why is buying local food more expensive, and how can that higher cost be addressed?
As I understand it, the price of local food is the real value and the real price of food. But what’s been happening over the last 30 years or so is [with] all the subsidies in our global agribusiness, agricultural system…[now] we’re used to getting cheap food with McDonald’s and food with very little nutritional value. There needs to be more people growing our food, or we’re just going to have to give it up to the GMO and the agribusiness.