Tuesday, March 24th, 2009
I’m sure many of you read the big piece in last Sunday’s New York Times business section “Is a Food Revolution Now in Season”, a piece which encapsulates both the history of America’s “Good Food” movement and hope many of us feel that aspects of the American food supply might just change under the Obama administration. While I fully understand the need to overhaul our nation’s relationship to agribusiness and processed food, I understand just as deeply–perhaps even more viscerally–the need for thriving local agricultural communities. After all, I have worked over the last 22 years of Frontera’s existance to develop a network of local farmers to bring high-quality, distinctive ingredients into our restaurants. Not just because they make our menus distinctive and attractive, but because they offer our guests a taste of what’s really fresh, a taste of what our local, seasonal bounty has to offer. And why is that important? Because those ingredients connect us viscerally to our immediate environment. Which keeps us in sync with the world we live in. Which reinforces our role as part of balanced ecological system. Which informs the countless decisions we make every day–from whether to buy that next Starbucks brew, whether to choose the wild-caught Alaskan halibut or Chilean sea bass, whether the farmers market vegetables with the hail-induced blemishes are as good as the beautiful ones from South America.
Not to mention the fact that locally cultivated food creates community. It adds vigor to the farming communities themselves by filling them with human-scale farms run by farm families that are intimately in tune with their land, those who till it and those who live around it. It brings city communities together around farmers market stalls, sharing enthusiasm for full-ripened fruits and vegetables, sharing recipes and ideas in a way that’s almost been lost in modern society. It brings chefs together through a web of farmers, comparing ideas and techniques for ingredients many of us have never seen.
A strong local food supply, when you think about it, can provide some of the much needed social glue that we seem to lack in today’s culture.
That’s why we created the Frontera Farmer Foundation to provide capital improvement grants to midwestern farm families, hoping that a small influx of capital will make them more productive and profitable. After having invested over $600,000 with local farm families over the last few years, the mission of the Frontera Farmer Foundation seems to be paying off. No, we’re not in Washington lobbying for Farm Bill reform or dreaming up new legislation. We’re here in Chicago, doing what we can to create both a market and a supply for local food.