UNION, Ky. -- When you peruse the menu for the Farmstand Market and Cafe in Union, you'll see information you probably won't spot at other restaurants.
Along with a description of the fare and a price, you'll often see where the ingredients come from. For example, listed under "farmwhiches," there's the chorizo burger, made from non-genetically modified pork from the Hundred Happy Acres Farm in Sparta, Kentucky.
In order to start the business almost a year ago, the owner, Tricia Houston, sold 28 acres she was farming in Napoleon, Kentucky, between Verona and Glencoe on U.S. 60. In other words, she gave up farming to open a restaurant.
She gets most of her ingredients from farms within a 250-mile radius of the restaurant. Her menu changes with the seasons.
For example, she just began offering chicken caprese, a salad made from fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, because the latter two vegetables are now being harvested. In the winter, she might offer roasted beets with Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, made from root vegetables grown in covered beds.
Locally grown food usually means fresher food, she said, and that also means more nutritious and flavorful food. She's not alone in feeling that way.
Millennials want to know where food comes from
Her restaurant is part of an informal movement in the restaurant industry called "farm-to-table." To the extent it's possible, participating restaurateurs buy ingredients for their meals from local farmers.
It's a movement fueled by today's restaurant patrons, who are "much more interested in knowing the story behind their food now than at any point in time," said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president for research for the National Restaurant Association in New York City.
Millennials, especially, are pushing the movement because that generation takes it for granted that they'll have ready access to information about where its food is coming from, Riehle said. Millennials increasingly expect to get that information via their smartphones, he added.
"They are the cohort most interested in knowing the history behind their food," he said.
Advances in technology have made it much easier to track food items from farm to fork, he said, which means that over the next 10 years, the farm-to-table movement will only accelerate.
Wholesalers facilitate farm-to-table sales
Something that's sped along the farm-to-table movement locally is the creation of wholesalers like the Ohio Valley Food Connection, which operates out of the Incubator Kitchen Collective in Newport.
The business, which celebrated its third anniversary on June 18, buys 90 percent of its goods from suppliers within 100 miles and the rest from suppliers within 150 miles, said owner Alice Chalmers. The exception would be foods not grown locally, like fish, which she buys from a fishery in Wisconsin.
"Our goal is to make local food as convenient to purchase as any other food, so we can grow the pie for local farmers and grow the quality and freshness of food for local buyers," she said.
Visitors to the website can buy food from 70 local farms and food artisans. Almost 200 restaurants in the Tri-State, in Louisville, in Lexington and Dayton have signed up to buy, she said, and about 100 buy regularly.
Other than Farmstand, customers include Salazar Restaurant in Over-the-Rhine, Hotel Covington in Covington, Greyhound Tavern in Fort Mitchell, Bouquet Restaurant and Wine Bar in Covington and Mita's Restaurant and Bar Downtown.
Ohio Valley earns between $12,000 and $20,000 in revenue during the summer months, Chalmers said, which is the peak season. She employs five people year-round and three seasonally, she said.
Her turnaround on vegetables is quick. A restaurant can put in an order for spinach that's still in the ground when it's ordered, she said, and have it delivered within 24 to 36 hours.
It's a great service for people like New Richmond farmer Louise Gartner, because it means she doesn't have to spend time marketing the organic carrots, peppers, lettuce and other produce she grows. She sells most of it to Ohio Valley, she said.
"They've opened up so many opportunities for me, I don't have to do all that," she said. "It's hard enough to grow the food and get it ready to deliver."
All part of eating healthfully
She thinks the farm-to-table movement will only gain more traction because of society's general focus on healthier living and healthier eating. Another reason is that people want to support local producers, she said.
At Farmstand, Houston does her part for healthy living by not selling diet sodas, which she thinks are not healthful. She sells only sodas made with natural cane sugar and she only sells locally crafted beer.
"People get real mad when you tell them we don't have Bud Lite," she said.
Not that it's hurt business. During the 30-day period that ended June 13, the cafe had 3,156 guests, or about 105 per day. She just began providing health insurance and paid time-off for her staff, she said.
"The customers have been wonderful," she said. "They have supported us right from the day we opened the front door."