The Buy Fresh Buy Local Southern Wisconsin program organized by REAP Food Group is beginning its seventh year with four new restaurants entering the fold: Banzo, Heritage Tavern, Free House Pub, and the Great Dane -- all of its area locations. They join 45 other restaurants, two grocery stores and four health care facilities as partners. The first year, there were 12 participants.
"The Great Dane is a huge deal for us, because they are a really large restaurant and it's a challenge to find producers who will be able to provide that kind of quantity," says Theresa Feiner, REAP's Buy Fresh Buy Local program manager.
REAP helps members in different ways, sometimes hooking restaurants up with farmers to provide specific ingredients.
When restaurants sign on for the year, they file goals with REAP: two in procurement, two in marketing. "They tell me what ingredients they are looking to source [in January], and that gives us time to find them farmers," Feiner says. The Great Dane is starting with a local cheese and meat board, and "that one component alone, for a restaurant of its size, has a huge economic impact for local producers," she notes.
There are many ways a restaurant can integrate local products into its menu. Marigold Kitchen was looking for a local organic heirloom tomato juice for its Bloody Mary; Happy Valley Farm, meanwhile, was seeking a use for its tomato seconds. The Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen in Mineral Point helped make the bounty into juice.
Feiner singles out two members that made great increases in the amount of foods sourced locally in 2013: Water House Foods of Lake Mills and Fit Fresh Cuisine of Fitchburg. Madison Sourdough, which sources flour from Lonesome Stone of Lone Rock, also means a big economic impact, says Feiner. Altogether in 2013, members purchased $3.6 million in local ingredients.
Some chefs and farms have closely collaborative relationships, like Andrew Wilson at the Madison Club and Harmony Valley Farm. "He tells the farmer what he needs, what worked, what didn't," says Feiner.
Feiner is seeing more interest from local farms in growing grains and thinks we'll see more experimentation in that direction as programs like REAP's create a market for more particular ingredients.
Other restaurants are already doing a lot of local sourcing when they hook up with REAP. "Dan Fox does an awesome job at Heritage Tavern," says Feiner, "and Banzo has been working with Sugar River Dairy and Black Earth Meats." Some need less help with sourcing and are "looking at reaching a new audience" and "teaming up for events." She cites Sun Prairie's Beans 'N Cream Coffeehouse and Salvatore's Tomato Pies, who partnered with Sassy Cow Creamery and JenEhr Family Farm last year to create the Cycle the Sun event last June.
Feiner grew up in western Dane County on what she calls "a hobby farm," with grandparents and an uncle who farmed. When she went to the UW-Madison "I knew I wanted to advocate for farmers and increase their markets for local foods."
She studied geography and land use and worked for the Wisconsin Dept. of Agriculture before starting at REAP a year ago. "I like working directly with farmers and restaurants and seeing relationships come to fruition."