Greening Your Restaurant – Buying Local Isn’t Easy

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restaurant.jpgI’ve been thinking a lot about the Food service Industry these days. A recent article in Environmental Leader noted that of all of the industries tracked by Climate Counts , an organization that produces a company scorecard , Food Service scored the lowest.

Overall the average company score increased from 30.6 in 2007 to 39.3 this year – a 22% increase. Twenty-three companies were ranked as “striding” (making progress toward change) vs. 18 last year. Ten companies are still ranked as “stuck” vs. 18 last year.

However, the Food Services sector had the lowest average (11.5 out of 100) of any of the eight sectors measured with smallest overall improvement.

Why is it so difficult for food service companies to go green?

One difficulty is obviously sourcing locally grown food. As Alice Waters discovered when she first tackled the Edible Schoolyard, it’s difficult to raise enough organic food to feed a large number of people. On average, organic food, because of the loss factor, takes at least 20-40% more land than conventionally raised food to generate the same harvest.

A recent segment on NPR described the challenges large institutional buyers face just trying to find enough locally grown food to feed their customers. In the interview John Cipolini who is in charge of every meal served at the University of Pennsylvania.noted:

We could probably single-handedly wipe out the free-range chicken population in Pennsylvania, if we decided to buy nothing but. Very quickly. Probably within a couple of days.”

So what can small restaurants do to decrease their carbon footprint? One remedy is featuring only seasonal produce. This may necessitate a chalkboard in lieu of a printed menu and some innovative recipes.

Large institutional buyers face greater challenges and it is getting worse.

The United States had 4.1 million acres of organic farmland in 2005, triple the amount in 1997, according to the Department of Agriculture, which regulates the organic industry. But farmers and grain buyers say the growth of new organic acreage has slowed, falling short of rising demand and causing organic grain prices to soar.

That is partly because prices for conventional corn, soybeans and wheat are at or near records, so there is less incentive for farmers to switch to organic crops;

“There has been no new surge of land going into organic,” said Lynn Clarkson, who buys organic grain as president of Clarkson Grain in central Illinois. “We are having to compete with this ethanol juggernaut,” he added, referring to the growing use of field corn for fuel.

For now ecopreneurs have the edge. Creative cookery, a commitment to buying in season and devotion to a “deep green” audience can still pay dividends even as prices for organics rise.

Related Posts:

How to Green a Restaurant, Part 1: Ike’s Quarter

Chicago Restaurant Co-op Expands Use of Eco-Friendly Takeout Containers

Targeting Green Grocers – How Ecopreneurs Can Profit From The Greening of Supermarkets

Which Organic Consumer Are You? Dabbler, Devoted or Reluctant?

Photo Courtesy: Oimax at Flickr – Creative Commons License

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