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A Beautiful Thing Happened in Michigan

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
This is so great, I can hardly type it.

I've been representing a produce company out of Detroit for the last 1 1/2 years. I take care of all their customers on the northern end of the state. Being a chef, I know how to communicate with the 165 restaurants I deal with.

Last week, an organization called the Michigan Land Use Institute (MLUI) contacted me, to see what the possibilities are marketing local produce to local restaurants. They represent 140 farmers in the northern end of the state, I represent 165 restaurants in the same area.

Here's the kicker! Starting next year, we will be able to have our local farmers grow products directly for the restaurants. Chef's will be able to communicate directly with the farmers, and "customize" what they want in produce. They'll also be able to visit the farms, and see their produce being grown. Some of the farms can grow ten months out of the year.

The produce distributor I work for will buy the products from the farmers at fair market value, and distribute it to the local restaurants. Restaurants can choose whether they want local or market products.

It's a win, win, win situation for everyone. Chefs win because they get what they want, when they want it. Farmers win because they finally make money on their products. And we win as a produce company because we'll be able to offer this to our customers.

Local produce + local restaurants + local distributor = win, win, win.

Pretty darn cool, eh?

Eric
RestaurantEdge.com
post #2 of 18
Eric thats amazing. Theres nothing I love more than local produce. Its flavor always seems better since it doesnt suffer from long hours of shipment and days in cold storage. :eek:

I hope someday Texas will have something like that, otherwise when I try to own my own restaurant maybe I'll just move up to your area.
Chris Hinds
Chef, Blue Door Cafe'
Culinary School Prospective
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Chris Hinds
Chef, Blue Door Cafe'
Culinary School Prospective
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post #3 of 18
Great news Eric! Interesting timing as there was a story on MSN yesterday as I recall about a farming family that grows strictly for the restuarants and are doing quite well. I hope it proves to be beneficial for all!
My latest musical venture!
http://myspace.com/nikandtheniceguys
 
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http://www.myspace.com/popshowband "I'm at the age when food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact I've just had a mirror put over my kitchen table." Rodney Dangerfield RIP
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My latest musical venture!
http://myspace.com/nikandtheniceguys
 
Also
http://www.myspace.com/popshowband "I'm at the age when food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact I've just had a mirror put over my kitchen table." Rodney Dangerfield RIP
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post #4 of 18
It's refreshing to see some steps being taken forward.Good for you, and your company, and the chefs!!!!!
Chinds85,
unfortunately you won't see anything like this in your area. Your state politicians are not for small business or small farming in anyway. The republicans refer to small business, as 2-5 million $ or more yearly revenue. The subsities far outway any income that can be produced like this. We've managed to let things get monopolize( can you say sysco?)
I challenge you to go to any supermarket in Texas and find a shrimp,for sale, from the gulf. Your farmers market will have "Local" signs but their grabbing the products from a crate marked Calif, Mex, etc.
I'm with ya, we may have to move to Michigan. :rolleyes:
FOR YEARS I LIVED TO WORK! NOW I WORK TO LIVE!
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FOR YEARS I LIVED TO WORK! NOW I WORK TO LIVE!
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post #5 of 18
That's super!!! I look forward to reading how it pans out.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #6 of 18
I am also in the sales game and we offer local produce as an option as well as the standard food service stuff. The problem being similar to Michigan we have a very short growing season in Canada and are not able to sell it for long.
Chef Bob


"Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch?" ~ Orsen Wells (1915-1985)
http://www.frappr.com/cheftalkcafe
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Chef Bob


"Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch?" ~ Orsen Wells (1915-1985)
http://www.frappr.com/cheftalkcafe
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post #7 of 18
This is excellent news, thanks for sharing... Please keep us updated with the progress.
post #8 of 18
Thread Starter 

Thanks Everyone!

This is certainly going to take all winter to organize!

Some items I can get now, but most are not ready yet, or already were ready, such as asparagus or strawberries.

We have some ability to grow 10 months out of the year, but the capacity hasn't been figured out yet. My guess is that it will be tough to carry it all year long, and in most cases, we can't. However, some farmers can grow 10 months out the year here, which means that to some extent, we'll have it available. It's going to take some careful planning and development, but the right people are behind the whole project.

It's a great deal for Michigan restaurant people, and this is what matters most! I really wish this concept could go nationwide! Sysco is trying hard, but they are all about numbers. Numbers, and numbers only. Afterall, they have stockholders to answer to, not customers.

Eric
RestaurantEdge.com
post #9 of 18
Eric,
I want to appologize for the sysco crack, especially if you're working for them.
I agree with you, they are all about the numbers. Here, they have absolutely no interest in small business or restaurants. Their goal is market share. Doing something like this would never fly with them here, the smaller independants are at the bottom of the food chain unless you sell yourself out to them and become a prisoner of their products. If they were to go into something like this, it would be with the intention of controlling the farmers which would lead to controll of distribution and controll of pricing. It takes work to pass on the 'local' concept especially if it means passing on higher prices To me, the word LOCAL, would be as you describe, local produce, local distributor, local restaurants, local pricing. No scales in pricing. a box franchise getting much better pricing and availability then the 60 seater , I think takes away from the win win.
Sorry for the rant but small foodbusinesses, family restaurants are biting the dust all around here. Large feeders and proveyors are pleased to see this.
I would really like to keep in touch on this PM as it is developed. ****, I'm so old I might be interested in setting something like this up here. I couldn't do sales though, I have this passion for throwing salepersons out of my kitchens or office,when they come unannounced, answering a call while talking to me,
making small conversation with the young girls or boys,touch any kind of food product in the kitchen,etc. old and grouchy :D
ya know, my 2 cents are worth a penney
FOR YEARS I LIVED TO WORK! NOW I WORK TO LIVE!
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FOR YEARS I LIVED TO WORK! NOW I WORK TO LIVE!
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post #10 of 18
A franchise approached me 5ish years ago, they were based in CA. and basically had formula to lease a refer truck, hire a driver and have a website so chefs could see what's in the field.
Larry Forgione told me last Sat. that Michigan had processing kitchens so that produce at the height of season is frozen for winter use. Right now several farmers have put in hoop houses and are gearring up for year round production. ACF is talking up local.....
I see more and more chefs walking the market on Sat. mornings.....more and more talk about production kitchens. The farmers are also really talking up value added.....but some that raise basil have never heard of pesto.
The problem inherent to STL is that farmers are spread across a 5-6 hour space....that's why I've not done alot of field trips.

There are producer co-ops that just can't get their act together.....the product is great but the delivery, butchering/processing, orders getting mixed up or changed, underpriced.....it's ongoing, and really sad. Those of us that support these guys continually tell each other it's a work in progress. A couple of years ago I realized this is a life long project and not just a short term majic wand deal.

Good luck, realize mother nature is now your partner and that most small farmers work on shoe string budgets.....
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #11 of 18
Eric,

I'm in Traverse City and my restaurant in Glen Arbor is a 40 seat fine dining establishment that opened last month. I'm buying as much local produce, fruit and dairy as possible but I'd like to join with you on this endevor.

Please contact me.

w-231-334-2530
h- 231-932-0049
cell-231-218-0049

I'm at work buy 1-2 pm daily, don't call my house before 10:30 am ;)
post #12 of 18
Thread Starter 
Panini,

You don't have to apologize for the crack on Sysco, I crack on them all day long up here! In some areas of the country, they might be really good, but up here, they suck! Basically, Sysco has "stupified" their product quality, delivery mechanisms, service and business practices to give them maximum profits to appease stockholders, while doing nothing for the little guy!

Prime vendor contracts from Sysco, Gordon's or U.S. Foods are basically a joke! Sure, they'll lure you in early with prices, but over time they slowly go up, and all the while they're charging you the maximum on other things such as chemicals, paper and dry goods. Trust me, they're going to make their money off you one way or the other, those trucks out on the road don't have free gas, free drivers, or don't come with additional expenses.

Shroomgirl,

You're hit the nail on the head with your descriptions of fresh produce and farmers. For the most part, farmers don't understand the restaurant biz, and yet, many chef's don't understand farming, either. However, both want and need each other in a lot of different ways.

In this situation, it may actually work out. First, the farmers have organized through a local non-profit, and combined, they have reefer trucks, coolers, greenhouses, and best of all "ability" to grow product. What they needed was someone like myself who has the trucks and restaurants to help them move their products. What farmers need to understand is the demands the restuarants will place on them, and how to prepare themselves appropriately.

Here's an example I'm using to define this whole project: "We have some restaurants right now that are buying yellow teardrop grape tomatoes. In total, I'm selling maybe 6 cases a week. This is a tough item to get through the markets in either Detroit or Chicago. However, maybe one of our greenhouse growers can crank these out all year, and we'll sell them statewide for fair market value."

When I tell a farmer this, they look at me and say, "no problem, I can get the hybrid seed from Michigan State University and have them ready 10 months out of the year."

When I tell a chef this, they say: "Bingo! That's even better than I expected!"

On your other point about Michigan processing kitchens, we do have them. Yes, we do. Most of which are run by the farms themselves. What many people don't know is that Michigan is the leading producer of cherries, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. All of which do well here, because of our mild summers and great rainfalls. BUT, restaurants demand fresh, not frozen (for the most part), and this greatly limits what farms can produce.


Randy,

Our trucks don't go to Glen Arbor, however.... I think we can still work something out. We go to Window's up in Lelanau and Boathouse out on Old Mission, in addition to the many we do in Traverse City. I'll give you a call and go over it all with you, during the times you specified.

Eric
RestaurantEdge.com
post #13 of 18
I am with you on this one. I had some issues with some big vendors and found that if I used smaller unknowns for produce and fresher items and the big vendor for daily use items I seemed to be happier with the results. I am picky about the ingredients I use but the company I worked for had a national contract with the Big vendor so I had to fight to get usage of the other companies.
In the end I was satisfied but the organization argued that it was a waste to use so many different vendors and when they sold the new owners were worse so I left.

But, I am glad more Michigan farmers are able to get their produce used. I believe the industry here does not use enough. I have an organic farmer near me that I use for herbs and greens when I cater. Awesome reviews. He also makes natural creams, soaps etc. Love his product.
post #14 of 18
Larry Forgione, An American Place uses frozen product...he's the one that told me about the Michigan processors. If Larry does it then it's getting that word out....my experience has been that some chefs need a nudge to know the possibilities of using dinged fruit/veg, frozen in the height of season corn milk or berries or peaches.....Sauces, sorbet, ice cream, soups etc....it's a education for both sides.

I'm e-mailing a farmer that is excited about raising Fall crops and wants to know what will entice the market goers.

Good luck, guess the non-profit is a farm to table project with the University...I'd check into working on a grant with them to get USDA monies for the project.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #15 of 18
I wish more people, especially restaurant owners would understand the importance of working with farmers or organizations like such mentioned above, directly (If they can).

Living in the St. Louis, as Shroomgirl said, it's impossible to find a farm, much less a decent one nearby. You know, all in the name of progress... blah blah blah. There are so few farmers markets around us even, so it's hard to find the freshest ingredients available.

I vowed a few years ago, that WHEN I open my restaraunt, I'm going to buy as much direct as possible, whether it be straight from the farm, or farmer's market. Afterall, who knows food better than the farmer and "chefs"?
Life without broccoli isn't really life, is it?
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Life without broccoli isn't really life, is it?
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post #16 of 18
I didn't want to sound like there were NO farmers around nor farmer's markets ahem..... Soulard has a few in the growing season....Apr-Oct/Nov
Ferguson, Clayton of course and Bottleworks. Thies is open as is Pruitts....there are farms/markets on the Illinois side too.....BUT there is not a large volume of product/farmers. I have a couple of farmers that drive 2.5 hours each way to set up on Sat. 6:30am.....do the math.....they generally have to load their trucks too.
This week we have the height of the season....white necterines, peaches, black berries, raspberries, lamb, eggs, raw milk, chickens, green beans, tomatoes....lots of tomatoes, corn.....ummmmm, watermelons, bison, peppers, squash, cukes, garlic, potatoes, fingerlings, lettuces, herbs, chevre, pecans, squash blossoms, I'm still trying to talk the corn guy into bringing in huit la coche, he thinks I'm a nut, corn smut is a scurge.....I keep telling him he'd make a whole lot more money if he were selling the smut. beets, turnips, perslane, shiitakes......

Cooking is good, the products are great! But the volume is not such that numerous large restaurants could get service.
What restaurant do you have in STL?
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #17 of 18
I completely understand about not saying tehre were NO farm, but there are so few in the area. I live less than a mile form the Fergsuon one, which really isn't much, even in the 3 summers it's been going on, they fail to attract a decent number of "farmers" with products that I care to buy.

I've never been to the Clayton one or the Bottleworks, though I have heard the bottleworks one is a good one.

Theis isn't the same since they sold. The quality isn't the same anymore.

Soulard is the only place nearby as far as I'm concerned that's half way decent, wihtout going direct to farm, or produce stands strewn throughout the backroads of Illinois. The backroads ones being a very nice place to get great cheap quality products and still be able to talk to the people who actually grew the products themselves.

The point is it's hard to find good stuff wihtout travelling from the NorCo burbs. Not that travveling for good stuff isn't worth it.

And btw, I'm no longer affiliated with a restaurant as of a few weeks ago.
Life without broccoli isn't really life, is it?
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Life without broccoli isn't really life, is it?
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post #18 of 18
You should check out Clayton on Saturday mornings...North Central@ Maryland 8-noon.
There will be 26 farmers there this Sat. I know I own it and line up the farmers.
Wed. Bottleworks market was one I founded last year it has about 5-7 farmers. 4-7pm Southwest @ Manchester.

I'm not sure how many farmers are at Soulard I would suspect under 10 actual growers.

Ferguson Market has R Farms which is organically certified, it had Biver farms one of the best in the midwest and Pruitts....that was last year when I had a chance to visit.....my Saturdays are pretty busy running Clayton Market.

There's loads of restaurants changing hands these days in STL. More in the near future. Good Luck to you.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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