Many Richmond restaurants boost local farms

By Heather Sullivan - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Next time you go out to eat, you'll notice a growing trend. More restaurants are using locally grown produce, dairy and meats. It's not only making meals healthier, but making the local economy healthier, too.

The menu at Mezzanine on Cary Street is planned around what foods are available from local farms. Said chef and co-owner Todd Johnson, "It's a struggle in the wintertime. But in the summertime, really you have an idea of what people are going to grow."

Johnson says that means foods are fresher and often organic. Most restaurants buy foods trucked in from across the country. They're cheaper, but Johnson says, "Now you're having to put more preservatives into your food instead of my farmer saying, 'hey I have pesticide-free tomatoes in this brown paper bag.'"

Baby arugula is an example of something restaurants used to buy all the way from California. But now they buy it from a local farmer.

Victory Farms, which supplies many local restaurants, grocery stores and families, says they've seen business double over the last five years. Said Victory's Gina Cavallo Collins, "We're seeing more and more restaurants that are really thinking about it, some more tokenish than others, who are really pushing it and doing as much as they can local."

Buying from small farms, especially organic, can cost more, from a few pennies to up to 40 percent more. But some chefs eat the cost, hoping customers will come back for the taste. Said Collins, "The chef's have an ability to transfer, to get past those bottom-line numbers, and reach that level of quality."

Johnson says Richmond area farms supply most of what he needs, but says the region could use more farms. "Once you have great farmers markets, then you see more restaurants open up."

Some of the other restaurants that focus on locally grown foods include Lemaire, Julep's, Savor, the Silver Diner, Belvidere, Balliceaux, and Wild Ginger.

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