MARCELLUS | As he stood over the podium and addressed a sold-out audience at Sunday's Local Harvest Dinner, Farmshed CNY founder Neil Miller announced that "we're entering a new period" for local food.
The sixth annual paneled discussion and dinner, which took place at Baltimore Woods Nature Center in Marcellus, featured a variety of local producers talking about their goods and a meal made from their ingredients.
“This has been a coming of age in the last five years," Miller said, referring to the local movement to embrace and utilize items produced and sold in central New York before opting for chains and larger corporations.
The panel included six individuals hailing from around central New York: Tim Hardiman, of Utica-based The Tailor & The Cook; J.W. Simmons, of Skaneateles' Shotwell Brook Farms; Laura Hahn, of Café at 407 in Liverpool; Greg Rhoad, of Side Hill Farmers in Manlius; Lindsey Jakuboski, of Kriemhild Dairy in Hamilton; and Tricia Park of Creekside Meadows Farm in New Woodstock.
This year's theme: Strengthening the Connections. Miller said awareness and participation are critical for a business and local grower. The relationship of the farm-to-table business and grower is symbiotic — not only does the restaurant, for example, boast and provide local, fresh ingredients to its customers, but the word of mouth and mention of its suppliers could potentially attract more business.
“In peak season, 90 percent of our perishable goods are locally obtained,” Hardiman said. “We have a list of 58 farms and producers we obtain our ingredients from.”
He and his wife resort to canning and curing to properly store the ingredients that go into the restaurant's offerings.
“One of the larger problems that we have is finding farms that can keep up,” Hardiman said. “There is an issue of finding farms that can continually provide the vegetables and meat we need. It’s a 'good' growing problem.”
Due to the supply and demand, he said, some farms may sell out of a particular item. Although the exposure is great for the grower, it leaves the consumers having to expand their search.
Café at 407 was founded five years ago to help support Ophelia’s Place, a non-profit organization that focuses on individuals suffering from eating disorders to help create a strong, positive outlook.
“Our mission is educational," Hahn said.
The café, which is a community supported agriculture drop-off for local farmers, aims to educate patrons and community members about health-related topics in addition to food.
"Farmers come in and talk to us and customers about their products," Hahn said. "We also have a list next to the latte bar listing local growers who we buy from. The list is continually growing.”
The local products can be found in local farmers markets, as well as in supermarkets. The panel agreed it is important to create awareness through media so customers know what local growers have for them.
“It (success) is about having support from the community,” Rhoad said.
This former chef of Rosalie’s and The Aurora Inn looks for meat within a 60-mile radius to provide and sell to people and businesses.
“We have an open door policy,” Park said.
The Creekside Meadows Farm originated in Lafayette but now sits on 150 acres in Madison County instead of the original 20-acre plot.
“It's about word of mouth. Advertising is expensive," Park said, holding up a business card for emphasis. “An ad about this size is about $300 a month or more.”
Park said customers take notice of the cost, which can be higher than the standard grocery store product.
The cost factors in many aspects, she said, such as insurance, land, maintenance and preparation for losses of vegetation or animals. Anything can happen — weather may not cooperate, and farms can take animal and crop losses.
The dinner menu included: cream of garlic soup, braised cabbage with bacon and onions, country beef stew with root vegetables and juniper, artisanal bread with meadow butter, and — for dessert — baked apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream.
Executive Chef Chris Kuhns, of Hospitality Concepts Group, prepared the meal and is bringing the local movement to all of the businesses within the group, including Skaneateles' Mandana Inn and The Gould Hotel in Seneca Falls.
This year's Local Harvest Dinner was his first, though Kuhns participates in Baltimore Woods' fall fundraiser, Environmental Chef. He said the local focus comes down to money.
“It’s a gamble, a risk, but we have an obligation to continue dialogue and development," Kuhns said. "We shouldn’t want to venture outside our region. It creates too much of a carbon footprint. People should be able to enjoy the ‘uber-local’ right in town. There is a lot of impact from the tasty food from our earth.”
As he walked past the cabbage with bacon and onion dish, he said he only used the food that was available.
“This food that was harvested in the fall," he said. "It was stored in cold storage between 40 and 50 degrees.”
There is a uniqueness to local food, Kuhns stressed, hence the concept of seasonal options and menu items.
“This is food for comfort, food for the soul," he said.