Building a web of regional food producers
In January 2011 we reached our goal of contracting with 1,000 small farmers, fishers, and food artisans through our Farm to Fork program. This milestone represents an increase of 46% in the total number of small-scale, independent vendors with whom we work companywide.
We launched the Farm to Fork initiative in 1999 to seek out food with more flavor, because our chefs were tired of bland produce grown thousands of miles away and shipped across country before it was ripe. The program soon grew into a network of rich, multifaceted partnerships between chefs and the many different types of food producers in their region.
In 2010, we made it a goal to sign up our 1,000th Farm to Fork supplier by the end of the year. We also wanted to cast our net wider, to fishers, and to harness the vast creativity of local artisans. So we hired 15 regional company “foragers” to seek out the very best local products in each region and bring them into our cafés. The 1,200-plus vendors that we work with today produce everything from artisan tofu to locally grown and milled flour to responsibly farmed fish.
Supporting family-scale producers in every climate zone, through every season of the year, is the first step toward creating an economically and environmentally sustainable food system. Our purchasing efforts help small producers find larger markets and expand their operations, often providing the support they need to start supplying other local restaurants and grocery stores. Supporting healthy, locally produced, great-tasting food pays dividends not only in flavor, but in more local jobs and ultimately, a stronger regional food supply.