It seems pretty obvious that behind every great farm-to-table restaurant must lie at least one great farm. But it raises a question known to matchmakers wide and far: How do you pair up the right farmer with the right restaurateur?
Bringing farmers to the table where decisions get made is so important as a way of introducing them to as many key decision-makers in the restaurant or retail industry as possible and and to help foster a more sustainable, local food system.
Enter the Local Food Matchup. This semi-annual event is designed to help grow business for chefs or retailers looking to source more local foods, and farmers or food and beverage producers looking to sell into the Pittsburgh area market. Now in its fourth iteration (the first one was held in March 2017), growers and buyers from across the region will gather at Threadbare Ciderhouse on Monday, December 3 for an evening of networking, tasting, meetings, and what organizers call “speed-dating” type interactions to get more local food on restaurant tables and retail shelves.
Although it sounds delicious, sadly we civilians aren’t invited. This is strictly business for restaurants, retailers, institutional buyers, farmers, growers, and food and beverage producers.
“Agriculture is a very important part of our regional economy,” said Jim Hassinger, the executive director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC). “Support for local food production and sales advances our region’s plan for more resilient communities.”
That support is evident in the coordinated efforts of the other three event organizers, in conjunction with the SPC: Sustainable Pittsburgh, Farm to Table Western PA, and the City of Pittsburgh’s Sustainability and Resilience Team.
While it may sound like a lot of metaphorical cooks in this particular kitchen, it really speaks to the widespread priority of growing our local food infrastructure.
“If economic activity in the Western PA food supply chain increased by 10%, we could create 33,000 new jobs and add $4 billion in business activity,’” says Erin Hart, founder, Farm to Table Buy Local, citing a 2015 SPC report.
Prior to the days of refrigerated rail cars and highways, almost all of our food was farm to table by necessity. Realizing today’s farm-to-table promise means creating – or perhaps recreating – a locally-based infrastructure that can augment the existing national supply chains upon which restaurants and consumers both equally rely.
Our region’s farmers and provisioners do a superior job growing and producing fruits, vegetables, cows, pigs, and lamb that command intense customer loyalty and restaurant owners and chefs are continually looking for new ways to connect with local product.
“It’s a sign of their success that you see many restaurants today who take pride in proclaiming their dedication to local sourcing by drawing attention to the farms and growers they work with,” says Bykoski.
A leading restaurant industry trade publication recently noted that “the first thing one needs to know about the state of agriculture today and its importance to the restaurant industry is that the two are no longer begrudging partners. These days, they play for the same team.”
The nature of the team varies, of course. Some restaurants are fully committed to achieving as-close-to-100% local as possible, others are looking to explore additional opportunities to feature local farms, and some others are in the early stages looking to navigate their way.
Whether a business is ready for a serious, long-term business commitment or just some farm-fresh goods for the weekend, Local Food Matchup is where sustainable sparks fly. For more information and how to register visit eatsustainably.org.
This post is a sponsored collaboration between Sustainable Pittsburgh and Good Food Pittsburgh’s advertising department.