Locally Grown? Organic?

 

NORTHEAST GEORGIA - The chorus of voices telling us to eat better foods consistently harp on the same point: a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is fundamental to a healthy life. That seems simple enough. However, when they add words like "organic," "all natural," "local" or "sustainable," it's easy to get lost.

But, eating healthy, locally grown foods doesn't have to be an intellectual exercise. The basic theory driving most progressive restaurants is simple. Eating locally grown foods produced through responsible, sustainable methods is good for our bodies and the environment.

Farm 255, an Athens restaurant, supports just such a mission. They offer a variety of locally grown, seasonal foods throughout the year, making for an incredibly diverse menu.

Most of the restaurant's food comes from a plot of land known as Full Moon Farms, which is situated on the 100-acre Spring Valley Farm just five miles east of downtown Athens.

"The heart of Farm 255 is our farm," said Olivia Sargeant, the general manager of Farm 255. "We are very dependent on our own farm, and source pretty exclusively from other local growers in the area."

Farm 255 does order foods from other growers when they are not available locally, but even then, managers try to purchase from farmers who practice environmentally friendly growing methods.

"Certainly the kitchen has to run," Sargeant said. "We do supplement with standards, we do buy garlic conventionally from far away, we do buy onions when onions aren't in season from far away."

But Sargeant said their whole restaurant was about compromise, and they are learning as they go.

"This is our first restaurant, and it was designed really as and experiment and an adventure to see what it would be like to bring the concepts of local food and sustainable agriculture into the venue of a restaurant, a profitable business, but with an alternative business model behind it," Sargeant said.

But Farm 255 is not the only restaurant offering locally grown foods. Even small towns outside the diverse influences of a University town are getting into the act.

This past summer, Kevin Wills and his business partner opened Harmony Grove Grille in Commerce. Like Farm 255, the emphasis here is on local meats, fruits and vegetables. In fact, Harmony Gove Grille even gets their beer from small microbreweries in the area.

"You don't need to drink imports anymore because Americans make good beer now," Wills said. Beer aside, the real focus is on cuisine. Harmony Grove Grille receives most of their produce from local farms, making their ingredients some of the freshest available.

"Even though produce from across the United States is always in-season somewhere, the quality you get in the mass produced farms is not as good," Wills said.

For example, Harmony Grove gets hormone and steroid free eggs from a local grower. They may not look like the mass-produced eggs found in a supermarket, but Wills says when people taste the difference, they won't care.

While Wills and Sargeant want patrons to understand their mission, they both emphasized that their customers do not have to worry about enduring lectures or environmental propaganda. Their restaurants are places to eat first and education centers second, but patrons can certainly learn more about locally grown foods at both locations if they wish.

"You can walk in the door, have a meal and not necessarily be barraged by philosophy," Sargeant said. "But at the same time, there are avenues to open that conversation."

Once people experience the flavor of locally grown food, they will want to know more about it, according to Wills. "It's an education process—they taste the difference and I explain why to them," he said.

And when it comes down to it, regardless of the mantra, if the customers aren't happy, the business will not succeed.

"That's what running a small independent business is about, it is the customer experience and recognizing who your customers are and giving them that little bit of importance in their lives," Wills said.

For more information about Farm 255, Harmony Grove Grille, or to learn more about Spring Valley and Full Moon Farms, visit:

http://www.farm255.com

http://www.harmonygrovegrille.com

http://www.springvalleyecofarms.org

http://fullmooncoop.org

Report by James Hataway

This article and video were originally published on the WNEG-TV web site on Thursday, 12 November 2009.





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From L-R: Katie Smith, Jordan Sarver, James Hataway
From L-R: Katie Smith, Jordan Sarver, James Hataway

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