8:33am

Sat April 20, 2013
Agriculture

Connecting farmers to restaurants in Binghamton

In New York’s central region, there are hundreds of farms selling meat and produce directly to the public, and a Binghamton group is working to connect restaurants with those farms. The downtown Binghamton restaurant Lost Dog Café recently held a "Meet the Farmer" event. Sixty people attended a catered dinner in the back of the busy restaurant.

One of the event's organizers, David Currie, went through the menu before people began taking their seats. “So tonight’s dinner features Blue Heron Acres Kobe Brisket braised in Lost Dog Seasonal Ale, which is also a New York Ale,” he said.

Currie is the director of the Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition which co-organized the dinner with The Student Alliance for Local Living Economies. Currie said almost everything on the night’s menu came from a farm within 100 miles.

“We have a baker’s maple shortbread with buttered popcorn ice cream, those are all together, sounds fabulous…”

One of the farmers supplying the night’s dinner is David Morgan, who raises Kobe beef at his Pennsylvania farm - Blue Heron Acres. Morgan altered his business five years ago. He used to raise cattle to sell at auctions. Now he sells beef directly to restaurants and at a store on his farm.

“I was retired and I got bored. It’s that simple,” says Morgan.

He says doing business this way actually removes some of the uncertainty. Morgan raises his own feed and makes his own market. That way, he’s protected from weekly changes in feed and auction prices. Every week, he takes a 220-mile trip, stopping at restaurants in Ithaca and Corning and Binghamton, to supply them with beef and pork.

“And we try only to service the high-end restaurants. We just couldn’t afford to do like a pizza shop or a sub shop or anything like that,” says Morgan.

Morgan says supplying high-end restaurants cushions him against the economic downturns that often hit restaurants hard.

According to David Currie of the sustainability coalition, there’s no shortage of suppliers near Binghamton. Besides cows, area farmers are raising goats, elk, deer and pigs. Most salads and cheeses can be bought nearby as well. Currie says he’s focused on making connections between buyers and sellers.

“I don’t think we’ll run out of the farmers. It’s rather will we run out of consumers? I hope not. Will we run out of restaurants to do? I hope not,” says Currie.

And it takes extra work for a restaurant to start buying from a new farm. Joe Brennan is Lost Dog’s sous-chef and handles some of the food purchasing. Brennan says he’ll either travel to check out farms or a farmer will come into the restaurant and pitch their produce. So the menu choices change often, depending on what’s available.

“But it keeps things exciting, having something new every day. Or if anything looks good, we’ll grab it, bring it in, figure it out when we get here,” says Brennan.

Brennan adds the only thing they can’t source from local farms is seafood.

Organizers hope to make "Meet the Farmer" dinners into a monthly event. The next one hasn’t been announced yet.

For more from the Innovation Trail, visit their website.

The Innovation Trail is a collaboration between six upstate New York public media outlets. The initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), helps the public gain a better understanding of the connection between technological breakthroughs and the revitalization of the upstate New York economy.