Anne Morse

Now under the management of a third generation of Carswells, The Shed restaurant has been part of the Santa Fe community for nearly 60 years. The family’s devotion to quality and consistency in their menu is rewarded when a customer says, “The Shed hasn’t changed since I was a kid,” a statement that co-owner and head chef Josh Carswell claims is the ultimate compliment.

 

Carswell’s strong support of local farmers is influenced by The Shed’s business model. “We believe in developing family relationships with our growers, suppliers and delivery people. We know that if they are doing well, we benefit from their prosperity.” This connection to the local community is reflected in The Shed’s participation in Farm to Restaurant (FTR), a 4-year-old program of the Santa Fe-based nonprofit Farm to Table, which works with communities and small-scale farming initiatives in various regions of New Mexico. Carswell was one of the first chefs to purchase produce from FTR. This past season, The Shed and its sister restaurant La Choza, were two of 24 restaurants that purchased produce from the 18 local farmers who currently work with the program.

 

Before FTR, Carswell found it difficult to establish a direct relationship with farmers. He would occasionally get farmers coming to the restaurant to sell produce, but there was not the consistency in pricing or the quality control necessary to make regular purchases. Nina Yozell-Epstein, director of FTR, works with farmers to determine a balance in price that reflects their costs, but is manageable for the restaurants. Yozell-Epstein says the program helps meet the farmers’ needs by assisting them in selling to a diverse marketplace to increase their sales.

 

Farmer Paul Cross of Charybda Farm said that his sales to FTR doubled this year, and thanks to distribution services such as FTR in Santa Fe, the Taos Economic Development Center, La Montañita’s Central Distribution Center and Fresh Produce ABQ, 80 percent of his sales are distributed by someone else. “We can always grow more than we can sell,” Cross says. “Having these programs to help with sales is key.”

 

Participation in the FTR program provides the extra benefits to farmers and chefs of production planning and advanced ordering. For the farmer, this can increase efficiency and eliminate waste, in addition to providing a reliable revenue stream. For chefs, this process streamlines the procurement system, making it as easy to buy local as from another source. FTR handles all the marketing, bookkeeping and delivery, which allows the farmers more time on their farms.

 

Farmers like Danny Farrar of Rancho la Jolla and Roni Stephenson of Stephenson Natural Farm agree that selling produce through FTR saves lots of time and labor. Stephenson says, “Because of sales to FTR, we didn’t waste any product and we didn’t have to be at (farmers’) markets five days a week hoping to sell our produce.”

 

Carswell appreciates the marketing that FTR does on behalf of all the restaurants that participate. The Shed also educates their servers about what is fresh and local on the menu, so that they can communicate that to the customer. “This dialogue is critical,” says Yozell-Epstein. “The best thing patrons can do to support the local food movement is to ask the question, ‘What’s local on the menu today?’ When chefs buy local and train their servers and staff about where the ingredients are coming from, it builds a relationship in the restaurant that has a ripple effect, benefitting our community, economy and environment.”

 

Besides making financial sense for the restaurant, there is a quality about local food that is indescribable. “The excitement that it generates with staff is something special,” says Carswell. He encourages customers to express their specific desires regarding the food—where it comes from or how it is prepared. In recent years, he has witnessed an increasing appetite for local ingredients.

 

Yozell-Epstein has also witnessed this growing desire for local food. In the early stages of FTR, she had to reach out to restaurant owners to get them excited about participating in the program. Now that it has become more established, she is flooded with requests from both farmers and chefs in the community who want to participate. “Our biggest challenge is securing sufficient cold storage space and delivery vehicles to meet the increased demand. It’s what you might call a good sort of problem.” She says, “We are currently looking to partner with other local organizations to share these resources so we may all operate more efficiently and reduce our impact as we grow.”

 

Although Carswell would like to purchase local produce from FTR for a longer period of the year, he understands the challenges of farming in NM and he knows the current weather pattern has been really hard on farmers. While the local variety of blue corn is bred to withstand the harsh climate of the Southwest, Carswell says the drought has negatively affected its quantity, quality and price.

 

The uncertainty of farming is something FTR also understands. The program provides production training support to assist farmers in improving, increasing and extending their harvest. Additionally, by assisting with marketing, distribution and bookkeeping, FTR seeks to relieve some of the burden from the farmers. “I see how crucial it is for both farmers and restaurants to have a reliable and available contact person to keep things straight and to accommodate their personal needs and schedules,” says Yozell-Epstein. By acting in this role, the FTR program has become a valued asset in the local food movement in Santa Fe.

 

With FTR, local restaurants like The Shed have the opportunity to support their local farming community, purchase produce of high quality and good value, and fulfill the increasing demand for local food. They also have the opportunity to help develop the sense of New Mexican food identity that regional ingredients can provide. The farmers that participate in FTR also benefit from the longstanding loyalty and continued feedback that the program receives from local restaurants. According to Carswell, “We really appreciate the mutually beneficial relationship that we have with FTR. Again, we can all benefit from each other’s prosperity.”

 

 

To find out more about the Farm to Restaurant program, contact Nina Yozell-Epstein: nina@farmtotablenm.org, 505.819,3518 or visit www.farmtotablenm.org

 

Anne Morse is a part-time grants manager for Adelante Mujeres, a community-based nonprofit in Forest Grove, Ore. She spent time in Santiago, Chile as part of her undergraduate work in Politics and Latin American Studies at Oberlin College. Morse volunteers at Farm to Table.

 

 

[SIDEBAR]

 

Funding the Farm to Restaurant Program

 

For the past two years, Lisa Oppenheimer and the Oppenheimer Brothers Foundation have been among the primary funders of the Farm to Restaurant program. “It was Lisa’s support at the crucial time of our transition to our new home at Farm to Table that insured our continuing success, and quite frankly, the survival of our program,” says Nelsy Dominguez, director of Philanthropic and Community Engagement at Farm to Table.

 

Oppenheimer’s generosity is due to her appreciation of the challenges of farming in New Mexico. In trying to make her 5-acre farm viable, she grew food for restaurants, the farmers’ market, her family and a food shelter. In the process she gained enormous respect for small-scale NM farmers. “This land is a hostile environment for growing food,” she says. “Having programs like FTR that act as informed brokers and outlets for marketing helps sustain farmers so that they can participate in the local economy.”

 

 

 

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