Twenty-six people gathered at Odie’s Deli on Nov. 1 in search of ways to get more local products into local restaurants. Panelists representing farms and restaurants shared their challenges: the high costs of farming, confusion about what’s legal to purchase locally, the lack of local distribution systems. All emphasized the importance of “communication, communication, communication” to develop business relationships. Perhaps most heartening for farmers, chefs at high-end restaurants said they are willing to pay a premium for local, but ordering has to be simple and delivery has to be reliable.
Other tips for local food and flower producers:
· Pick 1 or 2 items and do them very well.
· Timing is important. “Don't just walk in during the lunch rush and expect to start a conversation!” said one restaurateur. Make an appointment. Early morning is probably best.
· Use the off-season to learn and develop relationships, e.g. invite chefs to the farm in the fall and offer them prepared samples of what you can grow next year.
· Social-media savvy farms and restaurants are an asset to each other, so improve your social marketing on Facebook, Twiter and Instagram.
· Be professional: Have your business card with you. Answer your phone and return calls PROMPTLY.
One final point everyone agreed on: There’s a need for more conversations like this. Look for more Farmers & Chefs events in early 2017.