We all nurture a mental picture of famous chefs going to the market early in the morning to select their ingredients. We like to think this is the case for some small yet acclaimed restaurants and eateries on their way to a glorious future, but what about the vast majority? Teasing aside, where should chefs source their produce if they intend to satisfy a clientele that is increasingly demanding when it comes to organic and eco-sustainable food? Some may be inclined to tell you a “tall story” while others...
Freshly picked... at the Cash&Carry!
The latest novelty in the ambit of locally grown produce is surprisingly that of supermarkets. Vegetables can now be grown in special vertical glasshouses actually positioned in the fruit and vegetable departments of supermarkets and hypermarkets. A Metro cash&carry store of Berlin was the first to implement the idea of between-the-aisle farming, based on a project by Infarm. The indoor high-tech concept whereby vegetables are grown thanks to the hydroponic culture technique is encountering the favour of trade operators. Its widespread launch is just around the corner, for the joy of all those who will soon be able to count on spanking fresh products for their menus, obtained with zero or close to zero environmental impact. In actual fact, this is no real novelty since it is simply a smaller scale version of an existing phenomenon.
Vertical farming: a fashion trend or a real need?
Whether indoors or out, for some time now, we have been hearing a lot of talk about vertical farming as the answer to the dreaded lack of farmable land. According to FAO and NASA sources, over 80% of farmable land is already being cultivated and from now to 2050 the world population will grow exponentially. How are we going to bridge the ever widening and alarming gap between demand and supply? In this respect, we have already heard of some amazing projects in terms of volume and innovation: to quote just a couple, consider the cases already featured on Fine Dining Lovers of Singapore or Chicago. It still has to be proved, however, that the future of farming points upwards and that it implies nothing but advantages: the experts are in fact in the process of evaluating the pros and cons. But, in the meantime, there is another trend in full swing, that of roof farming.
Who are the new urrban farmers?
It is a widespread opinion that the "farm to table" phenomenon is rapidly evolving. Nevertheless, those living in densely populated urban areas have a hard time finding products that come up to their expectations. Chefs also encounter the same problem and, in their search for a solution, have not even left the premises. In New York, for instance, from Brooklyn to Broadway, from West Village to Midtown, the "farm to table" trend has been upgraded to "roof to table". Who hasn’t heard of the Abc Kitchen or Rosemary's, not to mention the Waldorf Astoria, an authentic garden of Eden in the heart of the Big Apple.
The trend is soaring to such an extent that those intent on opening a venue, carefully consider the advantage of finding a location which allows for the roof to be converted into a convenient vegetable garden. A recent report published by Restaurant Hospitality states that the business potential has not only been grasped by restaurateurs but by the real estate market in general. For example, a giant player on the United States property market, the Federal Realty Investment Trust, has recently implemented a colossal project: Bethesda Row just outside Washington DC, which forecasts a harvest for the year in course of over 4.5 tons of vegetables in a single area. Ready to reap the benefits are the restaurateurs contractually bound to the real estate colossal, such as Jose Andres from Jaleo, Mussel Bar & Grille, for instance, or the restaurant chain Sweetgreen specialized in salads.
And who are the gardeners behind this abundance of fresh produce? In the case of smaller operators, it is still strictly a do-it-yourself job, while large projects such as that of Bethesda Row in Washington call in a third player: Up to Acres, a company that has made rooftop farming its core business.
And elsewhere? Washington has given the cue to Seattle, where the Urban Farm Company operates, but also to Boston with its Green City Growers or Los Angeles with Farmscape. Not forgetting New York and Chicago with Gotham Green, soon to hit the news if it is true that the company is on the verge of developing a project for producing tons of vegetables (10 million lettuces, for instance) on a yearly basis! Neither are the States an isolated case: at all latitudes, from Tokyo to Caracas via Toronto, you will find people who have converted an otherwise unutilized rooftop into an efficient metropolitan vegetable garden, with increasingly tangible advantages for both restaurant budgets and the ecosystem. At this point, the same question hovers on everyone’s lips.
But is the resulting produce really of high quality? It would appear to be... Or could it be owing to a lack of alternatives or availability that the starred Gramercy Tavern in New York, to name just one, has turned to Gotham Green of Queens for its supplies? We are more inclined to think the quality factor is what dictates the choice. Along with a growing street cred in the eyes of those who care about the future of our planet.