In 1999, Bon Appétit was the first foodservice company to formalize a commitment to local food systems: mandating that our culinary teams purchase 20% of their ingredients from owner-operated small local farms. For many Bon Appétit chefs, the relationships formed with these local farmers and makers have morphed into friendships that have spanned decades. To celebrate these fruitful partnerships, we’re creating a new quarterly series that features longtime Farm to Fork and Locally Crafted vendors, starting with Squash Blossom Local Food in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Santa Fe sits in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which loom across the horizon, painting beige, red, and blue hues as the sun moves across the sky. The area that is now Santa Fe was occupied by indigenous Pueblo peoples some 700 years before the arrival of Spanish colonizers. The Spanish brought European farming methods that mixed with the sophisticated agriculture of the Puebloan, who prioritized crops that could be dry farmed, most famously the Three Sisters: squash, beans, and maize (corn). The influence of European farming methods fundamentally reshaped the landscape and along with colonial violence created a fraught mingling of traditions, cultures, and food.
“There are national companies that make commitments, but Bon Appétit has really figured it out at a local level. It has such a positive impact in local communities.” – Nina Yozell-Epstein
Today this deeply unique foodway persists, from Santa Fe’s snazzy downtown restaurant scene to the backyard gardens in small towns nestled amongst the hills outside of the city. It’s here that Squash Blossom Local Food, at once a farm and a food aggregation business, has left an enduring mark. Started by Nina Yozell-Epstein, Squash Blossom aggregates from 25 small farms throughout the Santa Fe area, providing chefs with freshly harvested local food and farmers with a steady, reliable stream of income. A Farm to Fork partner since 2015, Squash Blossom offers Bon Appétit and chefs throughout Santa Fe typical farmers’ market produce like rainbow chard, lettuce, and tomatoes along with local specialties like nixtamalized pink posolé.
Sowing Seeds Across Generations
By helping to strengthen Santa Fe’s farmers and local food economy, Squash Blossom helps to preserve the area’s food culture. And it’s one worth preserving. Here, some communities have passed seeds down from generation to generation, which have adapted unique characteristics due to the particular micro-climates in which they’re grown. “Corn and chile peppers alone are their own universes to explore,” said Nina. “Each little community has its own chile pepper they’re proud of. Following these seed stories tells you so much about the people who have taken time to save seed and regrow it every year.” These ingredients are woven into the culinary fabric of the city, with restaurants that feature cuisines from around the world showcasing local heirloom chile peppers on their menus.
Growing and Sustaining Friendship Through Food
Among the many chefs Nina has worked with since Squash Blossom’s founding, a key partner has been Bon Appétit Executive Chef Guido Lambelet, a fixture of Santa Fe’s food scene who currently oversees the Bon Appétit team at the Institute of American Indian Art (IAIA). While working at other Bon Appétit accounts in Santa Fe, Guido struck up a friendship with Nina over a decade ago and became a regular buyer after Squash Blossom moved from Nina’s imagination into reality. “Guido has been our number one customer from the beginning,” said Nina. “When ingredients are in season, he is all over it.” Guido places wholesale orders from Squash Blossom but also connects with Nina to capture the bounty of the growing season, purchasing tomato “seconds” (a second harvest of deliciously ripe but cosmetically imperfect fruits that might otherwise be wasted) to make sauce that gets served to students at IAIA throughout the winter. He also provides Nina with a wish list of ingredients he’d like to buy before the growing season begins, helping to signal demand early and allow Nina to plan her production accordingly. All of Squash Blossom’s produce is harvested from the field only after orders are placed, ensuring peak freshness.
The namesake of Nina’s business, squash blossoms are a fragile delicacy. They must be handled carefully, and according to Nina, delivered and cooked within just three hours of harvest. These flowers symbolize both the nimbleness of her enterprise and the fragility of local food systems in the face of unsustainable, industrial agribusiness. By weaving together a tight-knit community of farmers and chefs, Squash Blossom has created a model for local food resiliency and a lasting legacy that helps to preserve Santa Fe’s unique foodway.