Local foods for local tables focus of farmers, urbanites

If he could, Reno chef Greg Butler would like to use more locally grown products at his Buenos Grill.

And if he could, Fallon farmer Rick Lattin would like to see more of his neighbors growing crops specifically for northern Nevada consumers such the diners at Buenos Grill.

A nascent group of small farmers, restaurant owners and social activists is beginning to chip away at what they acknowledge to be big challenges in the way of increasing consumption of locally grown foods by the area's consumers.

At the same time, they've set some big goals, kicking around the hope that 20 percent of the food consumed in northern Nevada two decades from now will be produced locally.

A small step toward that goal will come Friday when Reno's Conscious Community Business Network meets over a breakfast of locally produced foods to talk about the linkages between farmers and local markets.

Butler, whose Buenos Grill hosts the breakfast beginning at 7 a.m., says the challenges are substantial in moving toward more local providers for his Mayberry Landing restaurant.

"I would love to use only local products," Butler says. If nothing else, he says, shorter trucking routes between fields and restaurants would cut costs and reduce air pollution.

But he acknowledges that widespread use of locally produced foods also depends on the availability of a smoothly functioning distribution network not to mention knowledge about the food products that are available from local producers.

That knowledge is a key element in the development of a local foods network, says Lattin, a fourth-generation farmer who's among those leading the charge.

For farmers, Lattin says, the development of local markets allows them to get better control of their business. Rather than sell their production in worldwide markets for farm commodities, they can tailor their crops for specific customers.

That's going to be increasingly important, he says, as newcomers to farming many of them with small pieces of land look for ways to profitably use five- or 10-acre properties.

And those small farmers are becoming more common, he says, as youngsters who grow up on the region's traditional farms don't want to return to rural lifestyles when they grow up.

The Churchill Economic Development Authority, the Fallon-based agency where Lattin spends part of his workday, is launching a series of classes to teach farmers how to develop local markets ranging from restaurants to retailers to individual consumers.

Kynda Curtis, a researcher at the University of Nevada, Reno, meanwhile, just completed a study of ways that farm producers can hook up with chefs and specialty food retailers.

Organizers of a local food system think they can provide more muscle for that effort.

"We are creating concrete business opportunities that enhance direct marketing of local food products in Northern Nevada, whether from farm-to-farmer's markets; farm-to- cafeteria; farm-to-restaurant; farm-to-community supported agriculture," says Richard Flyer of the Conscious Community Business Network.

Financial considerations, however, are fairly low on the list of many of the 40 folks who got together early this spring to strategize the development of a local food system network.

Instead, they're motivated by interests ranging from the desire to create a more sustainable model of agriculture to concerns about the safety of the worldwide food network, says Elizabeth Balmin, who's coordinating the network.

Participants in that first meeting, she says, were surprised to find that everyone from social-justice activists to family farmers shared some key beliefs.

"Food creates a lot of passion for people," Balmin says. "There is a lot of interest."

Along with working to link producers with businesses and consumers, Balmin says the group expects to focus on work with government agencies to ensure that locally grown foods are used by schools and other public institutions.


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