Omega FoodWorks, the team responsible for overseeing the food at Omega's Dining Hall and Café, is committed to using as much local produce as possible. FoodWorks executive chef Robert Turner says over the last eight years he's been able to increase the amount of local produce he uses by working with Red Barn Produce, a distributor in Highland, New York.
Prior to working with Red Barn, FoodWorks would buy directly from a number of farms, something that Turner describes as “really great, but really inefficient.” Working with Red Barn gives Omega access to many more local farms than it would otherwise be able to buy from, which has many positive effects on the regional community.
“We can buy individual cases from Red Barn that aren’t worthwhile for a single farm to drop off to us,” Turner explains. “Right now we have access to 10 farms.” Red Barn is able to meet the farmer's minimum and then distribute the produce to multiple locations.
This arrangement has enabled FoodWorks to source locally-grown greens earlier in the season. “We normally source greens from Markristo Farm in Hillsdale, New York. But they don’t do any greenhouse growing. So in the spring, while all the local crops are still maturing in the field, we’d have to buy mesclun shipped in from wherever. But through our relationship with Red Barn, we can get local mesclun early in the season, grown in greenhouses at Sorbello and Taliaferro farms.”
Omega has also been able to help out local farmers by connecting them with Red Barn for distribution, Turner says. Both Blue Star Farm in Stuyvesant, New York, and Ironwood Farm in Ghent, New York, which supply to Omega directly, now also distribute their produce through Red Barn.
Ultimately, local produce is about building community relationships.
“At Omega, the nation’s largest holistic learning center, we believe in reciprocal relationships that benefit the community at large,” Turner says. “If we can purchase from a distributor that has local produce, everybody wins. The farmers make money, and the headache of distribution is taken off their hands. The distributor makes money. We get a good product, at a good price—one that’s fresh and that we can turn into delicious food for our guests.”
© 2015 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies