Sourcing Organic Ingredients

Sustainability is becoming more and more important in the restaurant world. People want to know more and more about the origin of their food and to keep them in your restaurant and out of their own kitchen, you have to have some transparency. Even Chipotle restaurant is trying to use organic ingredients whenever possible.

To get on the organic train, you need to have a good source that will keep you stocked without eating too much of your restaurant budget. It is a fine art, and we have broken the art of sourcing into six major points:


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Know the organic standards – In order to get the United States of Agricultural seal of approval, organic farms must follow a host of rules. Some of these are that they preserve biodiversity and natural resources, do not use genetically modified ingredients (GMOs), and support animal health and welfare.

Of course, there are farmers that provide a sham organic label that haven’t been officially certified, making it difficult to determine whether organics that are labelled are actually real. Luckily, there are organizations that are designed to cut through the muck, such as the Cornucopia Institute. Cornucopia has created “organic brand scorecards” to highlight the brands that truly deliver on what they promise. USDA is battling the farms that are making claims without any backup, but until then it is necessary to be an informed consumer (and restaurant).


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Get the list. As the term organic can mean partially organic or wholly organic, we need to find people we can trust. Enter the National Organic Program. They oversee the USDA certifying agents and verify that a farmer or producer has upheld the standards.

It is worth checking on a regular basis, as the list will inform you if your producer is still in the certified category or if they have been suspended or revoked from organic standards. If you are passionate about making sure that your patrons are provided with honest to goodness organic fare, this is the list you need to check twice.


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CCOF Organic Directory Online. With the rise of informed food citizens comes businesses dedicated to keeping those citizens informed. Enter the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). This was one of the first organic certification agencies, and they are more than passionate about making sure that people who respect their food get the best products possible.

Annually, they compile the CCOF Organic Directory and Resource Guide. It is a list of clients, products and services related to the organic movement, making it easier for you to find a supplier without having to question their roots. The CCOF website is a great place to turn while you determine how organic food will fit into your restaurant. The website outlines details such as how you can handle your organic produce and what it can and can’t mingle with to be considered wholly organic.


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Organic Trade Association. We know it seems like we are giving you a lot of paperwork, but all we want is for you to have the resources. The Organic Trade Association protects organic trade to benefit “the environment, farmers, the public and the economy.” Besides having a platform for organic agriculture and trade, they also have an organic version of the Yellow Pages. Remember when we had giant telephone books rather than pre-programmed phones? We digress.

The Organic Pages could be seen as your Google search engine for good, clean, organic information. It can help you to find the farmers and suppliers that are best suited to the needs of your restaurant. It can even filter that information per location, making sure that you aren’t wasting any of your time to get delicious and ethical food into your customers’ mouths.


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Buy local. The National Restaurant Association found that local sourcing figured in four of the top ten hot trends of 2014. More and more restaurants are expanding their local sourcing efforts and proudly stating their initiatives. Take Panera Bread, whose 2013 campaign “Live consciously, eat deliciously” cost $70 million as a way to confront decreasing revenue.

You don’t need to have the wallet of a major food chain, however, to make a difference and hop on the local food train (can we hear a choo-choo?). LocalHarvest has the mission of connecting people on the hunt for local food with the farmers that produce it. The customer demand is big and can’t be ignored. Jered Couch, owner of The Dish in Boise says, “This is such a big trend today. And you have to market in a way that meets what people need.” It does not mean that everything will be organic, but it will be local if found through LocalHarvest. Just give the search engine your zip code and it will give you a list of nearby farms, CSAs and products.

When fruits and vegetables are picked before their peak ripeness, which also means that they are not at their nutritional peak. Only a few days after harvest, vegetables begin to lose their nutritive properties. A Harvard study discovered that the vitamin C content of many vegetables is optimal when it is picked ripe from the plant.


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Organic certification agency. If you decide to weigh heavily on the use of organics for your restaurant menu, you may consider becoming certified yourself. According to the National Organic Program, you don’t need to, but you can opt to become voluntarily certified organic. You can also use your local organic certification agency to help to locate reputable organic suppliers.

Pure Food & Wine is a very successful organic restaurant in New York City. Former pastry chef Jana Keith Jennings believes that the key to overcoming the demands of an uneven organics market is by sticking with the people that you trust: “Everybody wants to work together but it’s frustrating when you can’t compete in the market. We generally try and stay committed to the farmers we’ve been with for years. And they stay committed with us. Sometimes they are more lenient in letting us stretch the bill out a little longer.”

Although running an organic restaurant may be more expensive in the beginning, a recent survey indicated that consumers are willing to pay more for organic and local food.

Hopefully this article has equipped you with the organic know-how to get the best suppliers possible. Are you committed to organic integrity?

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