Ever wonder why a restaurant and market in northern Michigan would undertake the overwhelming task of transitioning to nearly 100% farm-to-table? After all, “locally grown” takes on a whole new level of difficulty in our arctic locale.
But, after so many years of chefs primarily using large-scale food service distributors or upscale establishments importing exotic ingredients, restaurants in the Mitt (and nationwide) are realizing more than ever, customers want menus to stay seasonal and local. Fresh holds the promise of bounteous nutrients and exquisite flavor. In fact, according to market research firm Packaged Facts, local foods generated $11.7 billion in sales in 2014, and will increase to $20.2 billion by 2019.
If you asked Katie Buckler, manager of Main Street Market Bistro in Gaylord, why she’s undertaking the task, it’s definitely not just about the numbers. “It fills a niche because we just don’t have this close by. The whole theme in Michigan now is to buy local, stay local, and more than anything, to keep neighbors and friends in business. We’ve grown so much in the last two years, and I would really like to see it continue in Gaylord, with every shop downtown filled with local businesses,” Buckler lauded.
With the help of Taste the Local Difference (TLD), Main Street Market just secured $2,500 in grant funds to help with the farm-to-table conversion. TLD collaborated with the Center for Disease Control to bring this Building Healthy Communities (BHC) funding to the region. The overall goal of the grant is to “increase the availability of healthy food options in vending, concession, cafeterias and congregate meal sites throughout communities in northern Michigan.” In the long term, the objective is to lower the incidence of chronic disease. And what better way to approach that aim than supporting local growers and producers!
Buckler, who’s been in the food and beverage industry for over twelve years, will be joining forces with her head chef to put together a new rotating menu, with the aim of staying “as seasonal as humanly possible.” Katie recognizes the challenge of finding year-round local produce in this climate and plans are in the work for the bistro to modify their kitchen to blanch and freeze fresh vegetables from the Gaylord Farmers’ Cooperative all summer long for their winter menu. They’re also renovating their small market to carry 100% locally sourced products. But have no fear Main Street Devotees, the bistro plans to keep around several tried and true favorites that have already drawn a loyal following. You’ll still be able to find their sweet and tangy arugula, beet, and goat cheese salad, and their delectable bison meatloaf and burgers, which are predominantly sourced locally already. Stop in over the next several months to see the progress. Follow TLD on Facebook to see the transformation.
Molly Stepanski is the Local Food Coordinator for NE Michigan for Taste the Local Difference and the co-owner of Presque Isle Farm. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org