Farm-to-Chef Networking Day

IMG_7628Local farmers and chefs are stepping up to the plate to try to keep more local foods in west Georgia. On Nov. 11, 2013, farmers and chefs from Carroll, Haralson and Heard counties gathered for “Farm to Chef Networking Day,” which was organized by Get Healthy, Live Well and the West Georgia Regional Food Systems Collaborative.

Participants spent several hours discussing, brainstorming and planning future ventures that could help more local farmers and chefs do business together. The event also included private caterers and food service directors from area schools and businesses.

Farm to Chef 2“A lot of our producers are selling to the Atlanta area … but our goal is to capture more of the local food here,” said Paula Burke, county agricultural agent in Carroll County.

The event featured a panel on the experience of buying and selling local foods. The group also discussed which educational opportunities — ranging from agricultural practices to accounting systems — would be of interest to local farmers.

Of course, there was also plenty of time for networking. Organizers took a creative approach to bringing the farmers and chefs together: Speed-dating.

The chefs and farmers rotated from table to table to meet one another. This gave the farmers an opportunity to talk about which foods they have available during each growing season. Some even brought samples to taste.

IMG_7584“For some farmers, it might be a little intimidating to walk into a restaurant or cold call and ask the chef if they want to buy meat or vegetables,” Burke said. “This gave them a chance to talk face-to-face and spend time together.”

It also gave chefs some great insight into what local products are available in west Georgia. “One of the big challenges for chefs is wanting to know who has what local products, so a lot of times it’s easier to just buy from wholesalers,” Burke explained.

Glenn Barnett, executive chef at Sunset Hills Country Club, says he appreciated having the chance to talk with local farmers. “I learned how the farmers operate and what their schedules are as far as where they go to take their products,” Barnett said. “I was able to bond with five or six of them.”

More than a dozen farmers attended the event. Bryan Hager, co-owner of Crager/Hager Farm in northern Carroll County, said the event was successful.

“I made some good contacts, and I met some chefs who I didn’t even know were looking to source food locally,” said Hager. “We started some discussions between farmers and chefs.” Hager hopes more west Georgia dining establishments will get involved in buying local foods.

Farm to Chef 1“It’s a potential local sales outlet,” Hager said of restaurants. “Right now many of us are delivering to people who sell to restaurants in Atlanta, and that involves transportation costs.”

It’s a win-win situation, as chefs are eager to serve their customers the freshest, highest-quality food — from produce to pork chops.

“The local farmers are growing things naturally,” Barnett said. “It’s not raised like commodity pork or commodity beef. It takes a lot more effort and input costs to make that commitment, but what you end up with is a healthier product and the quality is a lot higher.”