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Insights 12 Aug 2010

Food Miles? More Like Food Yards.

By Rachel Steiman

What’s next for the restaurant industry? As someone who worked in the hospitality industry for over 10 years, I have both a personal and professional interest in the food sector. I enjoy checking out new restaurants to see what they are doing to differentiate themselves from their competition and it’s always exciting to come across restaurants that are trying something new and innovative.

An article from The Independent highlighting a new trend in the food sector therefore recently caught my eye. According to a trend-spotting website, ‘hyperlocal’ is set to be the new buzzword, referring to restaurants and stores growing their own “produce on site either to be used in their menus or for sale to consumers”. This is already taking off in London and DC, and will likely catch on in other locations as well.

The Atlantic features a further interesting development in the local eating movement taking the concept of “locally grown” to a new extreme. While the hyperlocal movement relies on restaurants and stores growing their own produce on site, in Los Angeles, restaurateur Jason Kim is taking it a step further and has started a program that allows LA residents to trade produce from their backyard plots in exchange for credits at Forage, his popular restaurant.

In theory, it seems pretty good – trading excess produce from your backyard, which might otherwise go to waste, for meal credits at a local restaurant. This sounds like a really interesting, innovative concept to me, but also raises some red flags – from a health and safety standpoint, how do you know that the produce you are getting from a local resident isn’t going to make one of your restaurant patrons sick? Can you really take that risk? Apparently, I’m not the only one who had this concern after hearing about the program. In April, Kim was instructed to stop taking produce from home growers. “We were not allowed to accept things from ‘unapproved sources,” Kim says. “People’s backyards were not allowed.” He was told that these unlicensed growers represented a liability if a customer were to become ill. The program was therefore halted until Kim found a way of licensing growers in the same was as is done for farmers’ markets. This month the program re-launched with five certified home growers.

I was really excited to read about this new innovation in the locally grown/local eating movement and will be curious to see how long it takes to catch on in other cities beyond LA. I think as long as restaurants are responsible with their food safety processes and hold their growers accountable; this could be the next big thing.

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