From farms to tables: Locally sourced produce grows in Lincoln

Story and Multimedia by: Ashley Wolff, NewsNetNebraska

Locally sourced food is changing the way restaurants operate. The top two food trends for 2014 and 2015 were “locally sourced meats and seafood” and “locally sourced produce” as surveyed by the National Restaurant Association. Local meats and produce are expected to continue trending as showed in NRA’s trend chart for 2016.

With 93 percent of its land used for agriculture and $21 billion cash receipts annually, Nebraska is a state known for its agriculture. Providing a sturdy base for the locally sourced food trend to grow, restaurants in Lincoln, Omaha, and the surrounding areas are increasingly using local products in their menus.

At some restaurants, the seasonality and availability of produce specifically drive what is on the menu. One example is Prairie Plate, a restaurant located on Lakehouse Farm in Wahoo, Nebraska. Renee Cornett, chef and co-owner of Prairie Plate, changes the menu weekly to reflect the produce from her and her husband Jerry’s farm. What is not grown at Lakehouse Farm is often supplied by one of the 30 local producers and suppliers that Prairie Plate uses.

But, defining what local means and where the lines are drawn can get tricky. Though ‘local’ has become commonly referred to as within 100 miles, it is the consumer’s responsibility to conclude how local the food is.

“I’m not going to not use sugar because no sugar comes from here, or never use vanilla because it’s not indigenous or native,” Renee Cornett said. “But I will try very hard to source it from somebody who is a local substitute if that works. ‘Local’ is a word a lot of people try to define but you can define it yourself by what you’re comfortable with.”

Why the Growing Trend

Local food is popular because consumers are becoming more interested in the nutritional value of food, knowing where the food comes from, how it positively affects the economy and the environment, and the taste.

“In the end, it’s all about the taste,” said Jerry Cornett, farm manager and co-owner of Prairie Plate and Lakehouse Farms. “You will never find a raspberry in a grocery store with the best flavor it can have, because they need produce that can travel longer periods of time.”

However, there can be negatives to locally sourcing food. Buying items from many smaller producers in multiple locations is far more challenging than buying from a few big sellers. Another challenge is that different products grow in different places because of weather, so finding certain products locally can be nearly impossible. To add to this, the competition is brutal. Local produce is often more expensive, making restaurants raise their dining prices and potentially lose customers.

Yet, despite the cost, consumers are continuing to pay the price for more fresh and high quality products. More people are happy to pay more to support local jobs and businesses.

Justin Jones is the owner of Jones Produce, a small farm located in Crete, Nebraska. He sells his produce to restaurants including Prairie Plate, Pepe’s Bistro in Lincoln, and Grey Plume and Kitchen Table in Omaha.

He took advantage of this growing trend and also began Lone Tree Foods with Mark Roh and Ben Gotschall, a service connecting local farmers with wholesale buyers in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa.

“I really see the farm to table trend increasing because of how much it helps economically,” Jones said. “Having smaller farms specializing in certain and more diverse products creates more jobs than acres and acres of corn and soybeans.”

Lone Tree Foods will deliver products from over 28 farms surrounding the Lincoln, Omaha, and Council Bluffs area, including produce from Lakehouse Farms. They deliver to restaurants, grocery stores, and homes by simple online ordering.

Farmer’s Markets

Currently, Lone Tree Foods is also selling products from the Holiday Harvest Farmer’s Market in Lincoln, Nebraska. This farmer’s market started in 2013 because of the collaborative partnership between Community Crops, Old Cheney Road Farmers’ Market, and Open Harvest. They wanted farmers to be able to bring their late-season harvests to the public.

This holiday market has two dates, one late November and one early December. They were so increasingly popular the first two years that this year the market had to change locations in order to accommodate the larger crowd.

The growth of farmer’s markets around the nation is even more proof that buying local products is trending. The United States Department of Agriculture reported that there were 8,284 farmer’s markets in 2014, up from 3,706 in 2004. In addition, when the National Restaurant Association surveyed chefs last year, 41 percent said the trend of locally sourcing food will grow the most in the next 10 years. If this is true for Nebraska, the local sourcing has only just begun.
Here is a map showing just some of the local farms and the restaurants that are taking advantage of their products.

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