By Jessica Skinner
“I pledge to serve local food from AT LEAST one farmer within 150 miles of my restaurant, identify items on my menus that are made using local ingredients and set a goal to promote local foods within my purchases, advertisements and conversations within the community.” As the first official members of Monadnock Menus, Cantine Mexican Restaurant in Peterborough, NH has made this pledge. Not only have they made the pledge, but they are already moving full steam ahead to let their customers know about their commitment to local as well as socially responsible purchasing.
Cantine, owned by David Chicane and managed by Kate Grogan, has made a commitment to building relationships with local businesses and farmers since their doors opened a year and a half ago. While glancing at their menu, a few themes popped out at me: fresh, local and free range. The chicken is free range and their beef is grass fed, which has been proven to have a higher nutritional value. Cantine seasonally purchases items such as mint and basil from Rosaly’s Farm Stand, just up the street from the restaurant. “Its hard to keep enough mint around during the off season for our mojito, which calls for fresh mint” says general manager Kate Grogan. “There are times when we have to source our fresh items from outside of the 150 mile radius. But when its available, we make a point of purchasing it. At Rosaly’s Farm, we pick up our basil and harvest our own mint.” Currently Cantine is serving local squash, and this summer they served local corn and peaches. Their meat is purchased from the Northeast Family Farms and is picked up by distributors such as Black River Produce and Dole and Bailey.
Along with seeking out local products, farmers have come knocking on the door asking if they would be interested in produce such as peppers and greens. This is a growing trend with farmers in the Monadnock Region. Tracie, of Tracie’s Community Farm in Fitzwilliam NH, sets time aside to call restaurants in the area to ask if they could use any of the extra produce she has that day or week. This may mean that farmers have to commit more time to sales than to other work around the farm, but Cantine feels that these direct connections benefit both the restaurant and the farm. “We are making the commitment to buying local because it is important to support the community and be good neighbors.”
What sparked Kate and Dave’s enthusiasm for sourcing locally? Aside from their initial commitment to their neighbors, about two years ago, Pearl Restaurant and Oyster Bar, previously owned by Dave, organized a Slow Food dinner. Kate learned more about Slow Food from this event as well as from BenWatson, senior editor for Chelsea Green Publishing and author of The Slow Food Guide to New York City, Cider, Hard and Sweet, and Taylor’s Guide to Heirloom Vegetables. “The idea of slow food and supporting local farms is really important to us”. The idea of joining a CSA both for produce as well as meats and other products, was a very appealing idea that they hope to pursue in the future.
Some of their successes include getting very positive feedback from customers about the food they are sourcing locally. Many of them are very aware of some of the risks associated with a more global food system, such as the outbreaks with spinach and eggs. On the other hand, it has been difficult finding farmers to source from. Hijinks Farm, an organic farm based in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, delivered a “gift” of produce one day, which gave Cantine a taste of what was available to them. Aside from this, it is difficult to find farmers that have what they need on a daily or weekly basis.
Cantine serves menu items that do require products from out of the 150 mile radius, such as avocados for their housemade guacamole. “Whatever we can source locally is really helpful, but there are benefits to enjoying the global food system. On that note, its important to be aware of how its grown and where its coming from.” We couldn’t agree with you more.
Cantine is not alone in making a pledge to support the local economy and farmers through sourcing locally, but they are the first to have signed their pledge into writing through our program. Here are a few recommendations they had for other restaurants interested in making a similar pledge.
- If you want to want to buy more local products, speak directly to your distributor and make requests for meat, produce or other items from within 150 miles of where you are. They’re interested in providing you with what you want, so if they can find it, you can still source through the same distributors.
- Talk to other restaurants about what they’re doing.
- Try something new, even if it means taking a risk! Start small and make it work for you.
- Try starting with a local, seasonal dish for a limited time.
Monadnock Menus is a volunteer based program working with the community and local restaurant owners to enhance and establish relationships between consumers, farmers and restaurants to promote the use of locally produced products. If you’re interested in learning more about our work, feel free to contact us at monadnockmenus.org or visit our website for additional Local Food stories at monadnockmenus.org.