The Challenges and Future Of Locally Grown

Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the Menu

I ‬worked for The Culinary Institute of America‭ (‬CIA‭) ‬for seven years Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the Menuplanning and hosting conferences and leadership retreats for‭ ‬culinary and volume foodservice professionals‭. ‬During that time‭ (‬2007-2014‭) ‬the only topic that seemed to get more attention than local sourcing was Millennials‭. ‬And now the industry is forgetting Millennials and focusing on their younger siblings‭, ‬Gen Y‭ ‬‭(‬or‭ Centennials‭).‬

Including a session on local sourcing on a program usually made guest chefs very happy but upset certain sponsors‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬typically produce companies or commodity boards with specific growing regions‭. ‬“Local”‭ ‬seemed to be a threat to their business‭. ‬It was a sentiment I could appreciate‭, ‬but I could see how chefs and marketers were embracing‭ ‬“local”‭ ‬as a way to capture the attention of diners eager to support local economies and local growers‭.‬

One of the first challenges for‭ ‬“local”‭ ‬sourcing is defining what you mean by‭ ‬“local‭.‬”‭ ‬I recall a representative from McDonald’s stating at a CIA conference in 2008‭ ‬“‮…‬for a global company like ours‭, ‬local sourcing for our U.S‭. ‬restaurants is domestic sourcing‭.‬”‭ ‬Many in the audience smiled when they heard this‭, ‬assured that a major customer like McDonald’s was being realistic about defining local‭.‬

But not all chefs and foodservice operators are always in favor of local sourcing‭. ‬Celebrity chef and restaurateur Michael Chiarello‭, ‬who was born and raised in California’s Central Valley‭, ‬stated during a panel discussion about local sourcing at the CIA in 2010‭: ‬“I don’t care where a tomato comes from as long as it’s flavorful‭. ‬I’ll use San Marzano tomatoes from Italy if that’s the only tomato that gives me the flavor I want for a specific dish‭.‬”

Each fall the National Restaurant Association surveys members of the American Culinary Federation to develop the next year’s‭ ‬“What’‭ ‬Hot‭?‬”‭ ‬Culinary Forecast‭. ‬In 2016‭, ‬they asked respondents‭ ‬“Which current culinary trend has grown the most over the past 10‭ ‬years‭?‬”‭ ‬Local sourcing was the top response‭ (‬44%‭) ‬followed by gluten-free cuisine‭ (‬21%‭) ‬and environmental sustainability‭ (‬13%‭). ‬They also asked respondents‭ ‬“Which current culinary trend will be the hottest menu trend 10‭ ‬years from now‭?‬”‭ ‬Local sourcing ranked second‭ (‬21%‭) ‬to environmental sustainability‭ (‬41%‭). ‬Combining local sourcing and environmental sustainability seems to be the biggest trend to watch in our farming and food system‭.‬

From a flavor standpoint, one of the big upsides of indoor vertical farming is the ability to combine plant genetics with agriculture inputs to deliver a specific flavor profile.

I was invited to moderate a panel discussion at the 2016‭ ‬Aspen Ideas Festival on‭ ‬“The Next Food Revolution‭.‬”‭ ‬Panelists included David Rosenberg‭, ‬chief executive and co-founder of AeroFarms‭; ‬Bryn Banuelos‭, ‬marketing director at the Albertsons Companies‭, ‬Inc‭.; ‬and Mike Frank‭, ‬chief commercial officer for Monsanto Company‭. ‬The focus of our discussion was on innovation and technology in the food system‭.

AeroFarms is an indoor farming operation growing organic leafy greens in a warehouse in New Jersey without any soil‭, ‬or sunlight‭, ‬or disruptions in growing conditions due to climate change‭. ‬Ultraviolet lighting and nutrient-enhanced water provide everything the plants need to grow‭. ‬Their mission is to build indoor farms in densely populated urban areas to provide access to nutrient‭-‬rich‭, ‬local food‭.‬

The aeroponic vertical farming technology developed by AeroFarms is being watched closely by food system leaders as well as venture capitalists‭. ‬AeroFarms accepted‭ $‬20‭ ‬million on venture capital funding in late 2015‭, ‬funding for expansion in the U.S‭. ‬and around the world‭. ‬After moving into a new 70,000‭ ‬square foot space in Newark‭, ‬their next site will likely be Shanghai‭, ‬one of the‭ ‬most populous cities in the world with more than 24‭ ‬million residents today‭.‬

From a flavor standpoint‭, ‬one of the big upsides of indoor vertical farming is the ability to combine plant genetics with agricultural inputs to deliver a specific flavor profile‭. ‬Rosenberg captured the attention of everyone in the audience during our panel discussion in Aspen when he talked about the flavor and texture of their baby kale‭. ‬“This kale is so tender and sweet‭, ‬it will make everyone love kale‭.‬”‭ ‬As a known kale hater‭, ‬I’m a bit leery of this claim‭. ‬But I’m planning on visiting Rosenberg and his Newark facility prior to the New York Produce Show in December‭. ‬I’ll let you know how that taste test goes‭.‬

So‭, ‬will technology be the solution moving forward to expand local sourcing and environmental sustainability‭? ‬It’s not the only solution‭, ‬but it’s one we should all pay attention to if we want to grow more food on less land with less environmental impact‭. ‬And if we want to‭ ‬capture the attention of more chefs‭, ‬we’ll also focus on flavor‭!

Amy Myrdal Miller‭, ‬MS‭, ‬RDN‭, ‬FAND is a farmer’s daughter from North‭ ‬Dakota‭, ‬award-winning dietitian‭, ‬culinary nutrition expert‭, ‬and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting‭, ‬Inc‭. ‬Learn more about her business at‭. ‬Follow her insights on food and‭ ‬flavor issues on Twitter‭ ‬@AmyMyrdalMiller‭.‬