DOAG: Farm-to-Chef Trade/Buying Show to be Held Feb 23

This article appeared in the January 29, 2013 edition of the Ag Report
 
 

Farm-to-Chef Trade/Buying Show to be Held Feb 23

By the Office of Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky

 

On Saturday, February 23, 2013, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s Farm to Chef Program will host Growing Farmer-Chef Relationships, a trade/buying show that will introduce Connecticut Grown producers to chefs and foodservice buyers.  The event will take place from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Manchester Community College.  Early registration must be postmarked by January 31, 2013.

 

This is an opportunity for farmers to meet and develop relationships with chefs and buyers from some of the state’s finest small, medium, and large restaurants, as well as from Connecticut institutions—e.g., schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, corporate cafeterias, and state-run facilities—that seek to serve quality Connecticut Grown ingredients to their diners.

 

Going beyond a “meet-and-greet” or even “get-to-know-your-farmer” approach, the Farm-to-Chef Program is encouraging farmers and chefs to enter into agreements in advance of the season to help balance supply and demand, and to share the risks associated with growing, producing, and using fresh, local farm products.

   

A sample agreement form for a 10-week purchasing period will be provided to all attendees for this purpose, with the option to modify the length or other terms to meet the needs of both parties.  The sample calls for half the season’s purchases be paid in advance, with the balance paid at the end of the contract period—but this too can be modified to suit the needs of both seller and buyer. 

 

Each participating farm will be provided space to set up a table display with information about its crop plans, product lines, and wholesale price lists for the upcoming season.  Producers will be grouped by category.  Tasting is not allowed due to health regulations, but fresh product may be displayed.  A producer information form will be sent out to registrants, who are encouraged to fill it out completely and bring copies to hand out at the event.

 

Early registration fee is $10 per farm or foodservice business (up to three attendees from the same company).  Early registration must be mailed in with payment (check only) and postmarked no later than January 31, 2013. 

 

Late registration fee (after January 31) is $15 per person.  Late registration must be hand-delivered to the Department of Agriculture with payment (check or cash only) by noon on February 22, 2013.Registration forms and additional information about the event are available on the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s website, www.CTGrown.gov (look under “Featured Links”).

 

The Department of Agriculture launched the Farm-to-Chef Program in 2006 to help connect the state’s farmers with chefs and foodservice buyers.  It has hosted annual meetings, farm and seafood tours, demonstrations, and other events; produced a monthly newsletter; and coordinated Farm-to-Chef Week each year in September, during which restaurants and other eateries create and offer special Farm-to-Chef menus featuring Connecticut Grown ingredients. 

 

Moving forward, the program is looking to the Governor’s Council for Agricultural Development, which has spent the past year working on the first-ever, holistic strategic plan for Connecticut agriculture, to help it better serve its members.  The council has identified restaurants and institutions as a significant opportunity for Connecticut farmers.

 

To date, the council’s planning process has included 110 hours of in-depth information interviews with key stakeholders, an online survey completed by 232 participants, four regional listening sessions around the state, and a full day of topic-focused meetings, to which 90 experts in specific subject areas were invited to brainstorm and prioritize ideas for recommendations.

 

One of the three breakout sessions at that full-day event focused on farm-to-institution (including farm-to-restaurant) channels and the infrastructure needed to support those channels.  The group determined that enhanced infrastructure to enable better aggregation, light processing, and distribution is a key component to turning the curve in farm-to-institution channels here in Connecticut. 

 

Many farms in the state are interested in doing business with restaurants and institutional facilities, and many restaurants and institutions want to use Connecticut Grown farm products.  A gap exists, however, in farms’ ability to produce sufficient and consistent supply—in the forms needed—of the products sought by those customers. 

 

A hospital cafeteria, for example, may serve 2,500 meals a day, 365 days a year.  Few, if any farms in the state can supply the ingredients for all of these meals in a form that the cafeteria kitchen can use.  The amount of product (number of pounds), seasonality of that product (June through September growing period), and form of that product (raw, whole, unpeeled) can all be barriers to supplying the hospital’s needs. 

 

Infrastructure that would enable several farms to combine loads; processing equipment that could peel, chop, and even freeze or otherwise extend shelf-life; and a distribution system that provides convenient, affordable delivery of those products would open doors for Connecticut’s producers and much better position them to establishing real, long-term, and profitable relationships with institutional customers.

 

The ideas generated at November’s topic-focused meetings have been incorporated into the council’s first annual report, which will be presented to Governor Malloy in the coming weeks.  The report recommends action steps that will help Connecticut farmers strengthen, diversify, and improve their businesses.

 

In addition, the council will be dedicating three working groups to farm-to-institution channels, each focusing on a different subset.  One will concentrate on restaurants; another will home in on public K-12 schools and state purchasing; the third will focus on colleges and universities, private K-12 schools, healthcare facilities, and corporate cafeterias.  These groups will begin meeting in the next few months and continue to identify priorities and recommend steps that will further enhance these markets. 

 

The council’s work in this area dovetails with that of the Farm-to-Chef Program and will help direct the program as it moves forward in 2013 and beyond to better serve its members.  This is a time of transition for the Farm-to-Chef Program, but one that ultimately will benefit not only the state’s farmers but everyone served by Connecticut’s many and diverse restaurants and institutions.

 

For more information about the Farm-to-Chef Program, please visit www.CTGrown.gov/FarmtoChef.  For more information about the Governor’s Council for Agricultural Development, go to www.CTGrown.gov/GovernorsCouncil.