According to one estimate, a 500 square foot New York City urban farming plot can produce enough locally grown produce to supply the majority of an average sized restaurant’s produce needs for weeks on end.
In fact, the production potential of urban farming is not quite a secret – many of the produce items shipped to restaurants today that travel over one thousand miles from “farm to table” can also be grown on a rooftop urban garden across the street.
However what is less known to many is one of the major factors holding back urban farming operations in our cities today; this limitation ironically has nothing to do with the production potential of an urban farm, the variety of crops that can be grown locally, or the people operating the farms.
What is the major limiting factor?
It turns out that a common issue for many urban growers is that they simply cannot find consistent buyers of their produce. Plain and simple, supply and demand. This is clearly not a sustainable situation.
What is the solution to this problem? How can we jumpstart the market for our urban fresh food suppliers and provide more value to the food industry and, of course, the food consumer?
The key lies in restaurants. It should come as no surprise that restaurants are a huge market for consumption of urban farmed food.
Fortunately, on this front, there is reason for optimism. Some restaurants are buying local, and increasingly so in the last decade. A number of local ingredients in restaurant menus in an aggregate, according to market research firm Mintel , increased by 73% in the time span between 2009 and 2013 in the United States.
But there is still a long way to go as far as restaurant adaption of local ingredients. A google search of “farm to table restaurants New York City” returns 1.6% as many results as a google search for “New York City restaurants”. Local food incorporation is clearly not fully adapted in restaurants, or anywhere close. So what is holding chefs and restaurant managers back?
One leading factor may just be a lack of awareness. Restaurants who are not utilizing locally sourced goods have many reasons to do so, they may just not know of them. With this in mind, here are 3 reasons why restaurant owners and chefs should have started using local ingredients yesterday:
The market is larger than you think: 81% of aquaponic urban farming operations in the world are located in the United States. This same market will be a 1$ billion dollar market in 2020. What does that mean for restaurant owners? A vast array of options to choose from as far as commodity, price point, and services competing to provide the best product.
Fresher produce is proven to be healthier: Because urban or locally farmed produce has less distance to travel in the supply chain, it can be harvested at a later stage of ripeness, meaning healthier foods that are richer in nutrients. Result? A healthier dining experience and (likely) better-tasting food for customers.
It’s beneficial to the environment: According to urban agriculture blog Urban Vine Co urban farming and local food production are correlated not only with healthier local economies but also greater socioeconomic diversity and even less neighborhood crime. For a restaurant trying to build its brand and differentiate from competitors over the long-haul, these types of long-term community investments, enabled by local food patronage, are worth serious consideration.
Post written by Pat Flynn, CMO at Hazel Technologies, at Hazel Technologies, we develop biodegradable products that provide unprecedented control of produce freshness, preventing extensive waste in the food supply chain and increasing shelf life for distributors, restaurants, and grocery chains. Find out more at Hazel Technologies.