LJWorld Green

Lawrence restaurants look local for key ingredients

Rick Martin, executive chef at Free State Brewery, talks about using locally-grown produce at the restaurant.

August 18, 2008



Welcome to our ongoing project, LJWorld.com/Green. Here you can find tips on how to make your life environmentally friendly and read stories about what others in the community are doing to live a more green lifestyle. Eat local, conserve resources, be green.

Growing business

Farmers finding bigger profits by selling locally

Kevin Irick, who offers produce at the Downtown Lawrence Farmers' Market, looks over some of his hot house tomatoes.

Kevin Irick is all local. He lives local, grows local and sells local. And he's not alone. His approach to farming is part of a national movement that is hitting home for many Americans, including folks in the Lawrence area. More

Avery Lominska is one the first to arrive at the Lawrence Farmers' Market on July 26. He will be selling a variety of vegetables from his stand on this day.

Avery Lominska is one the first to arrive at the Lawrence Farmers' Market on July 26. He will be selling a variety of vegetables from his stand on this day.

Carol Huettner sets up her booth at the Lawrence Farmers Market July 26.

Carol Huettner sets up her booth at the Lawrence Farmers Market July 26.

Lawrence chefs look forward to the fruits of summer.

"You haven't had a peach until you've had one from around here," said Rick Martin, who has been executive chef at Free State Brewery for 17 years.

The downtown restaurant has been serving peaches grown by Lawrence farmer Kevin Irick in cobblers, dressings and ice cream sorbets.

It's just one of the many items that Free State purchases from local farmers. Last year, Martin said the restaurant spent about $220,000 on local breads, vegetables and meats.

"I think we are going to eclipse that this year by a sizable amount," he said.

Martin estimated that locally-grown foods make up about 25 percent of the menu's items during the peak summer season.

"I would love to be completely local, but it's not possible," he said. "It is getting more and more so, but there's just so many commodity items that can't be produced locally."

Irick is doing his best to help out. Besides peaches, he also sells tomatoes, basil, blackberries, squash and broccoli to Free State.

"This time of year, we are just trying to keep up," he said.

Irick also sells his homegrown produce to Pachamamas, Global Cafe, Genovese and Local Burger. He said he "got his foot in the door" by having a booth at the Lawrence Farmers' Market, which is frequented by chefs such as Martin and Melinda Roeder.

Roeder, executive chef at Marisco's, finds the Lawrence Farmers' Market to be inspiring. For example, she might plan to purchase cantaloupes, but once she gets there, she might end up buying peaches instead.

"You never know what you are going to find there and so it's like a treasure hunt, if you will, and then your menu kind of works from there," she said.

Price is right?

Lawrence chefs said local farmers' prices were comparable to what they paid food distributors. For some items, they might pay more or less, but they agreed that nothing beats the taste of homegrown produce.

"A fresher product comes to us ripe as opposed to buying tomatoes that were grown in California, picked when they were green, kept in a warehouse and then ripened with gas. It's awful as opposed to picked-off-the-vine," said Shawn Miller, sous chef at Teller's.

"You might pay a little more for the quality, in my opinion, but you are not paying extra shipping costs and gas costs that are starting to show up on our invoices from bigger purveyors," he added.

Miller said the downtown restaurant tries to purchase as close to home as possible. Teller's menu also features Kansas beef and local pork chops. They plan to can fresh tomatoes to use in sauces this winter.

"We try to get everything from as close to the restaurant as we can," he said.

Rick Renfro, owner of Johnny's Tavern, buys sweet corn during the summer from Bismarck Gardens in North Lawrence and offers it at his restaurant. He occasionally purchases produce from the farmers' market for sides and toppings.

"Homegrown tomatoes are great. I personally won't eat corn out of season or tomatoes," he said.

Not always feasible

Renfro said he would like to serve more local offerings, but it isn't feasible for his business. Wheat State Pizza manager Joe Scholz said he has considered buying local produce, but found it wasn't doable either.

"The feel of this restaurant is a local establishment and we just want to be a part of the community and support other local business," he said. "But, for now, it's just easier for us to order from a larger food wholesaler."

Scholz said he expected the pizzeria would be revisiting its decision within the next couple of years as fuel prices continue to inflate delivery rates and the local-diet trend continues to grow.

Lawrence resident Chris Henkel said he is more apt to eat at restaurants that offer more than the standard fare, especially if it is grown locally. He also is willing to pay extra.

"Definitely, it's worth it," he said.


Paul Geisler 9 years, 7 months ago

As a friend and former co-worker of Rick's I'm thrilled to see the LJWorld highlighting his role in Free State's efforts to buy locally! And I'm equally pleased to see our dear friend Kevin Irick receive some more publicity for his efforts to supply fresh produce to a number of our local restaurants, as well as the Merc! I think the restaurants that were listed in the article deserve some credit for purchasing local produce! I know I certainly consider that when deciding where to dine!Keep up the great work guys!!!

Meryl Carver 9 years, 7 months ago

Avery Lominska is known at our house as "The Guy With the Cool Tomatoes".

idarastar 9 years, 7 months ago

bretherite, we do have CSA's here too! There is the KC Food Circle CSAhttp://www.kcfoodcircle.org/and there is also the Rolling Prairie Farmer's Alliancehttp://www.rollingprairie.net/Maybe there are more, I just don't know about them.I think there was an article here or somewhere else encouraging more farmers to grow locally to accommodate for the increasing demand on locally-grown food.If you don't sign up for the group early enough, you don't get a place in time to partake in the food pickups.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 7 months ago

Idarstar beat me to it-- Rolling Prairie Alliance has been distributing their local produce at the Merc for at least 12 years, and I believe they have other distribution locations, as well.

lovethymother 9 years, 7 months ago

am i the only one who thinks avery is real cute?!i mean...i love local produce!

idarastar 9 years, 7 months ago

I love going to the farmer's market. The produce is fresh and wonderful and I don't pay a percentage extra for government taxes. ;-)I buy mostly all of mine from the following vendors:hoyland farmmoon on the meadowwakarusa valley farmhoyland farm for my kale, garlic, onions, basil, spinach, apples. i even bought my tomato and mint plant there for great prices. moon on the meadow is my top choice for beautiful heirloom tomatoes, potatoes, basil and okra.wakarusa valley has those awesome $2 watermelons, bell peppers, onions, and right now they have super delicious peaches.the casbah market/seed cafe at 8th and mass buys mostly local organic ingredients as well. i love their green juices! :-)(btw...I love the LJW for making the GREEN section!)

bretherite 9 years, 7 months ago

We used to be in Lawrence but moved to California. Out here we have something called Community Supported Agriculture. We pay a set amount every quarter and once a week I drive to a local farm and pick up our veggies/fruit for the week. It differs ever week with what is available but everything is grown within 100 miles of Sacramento. There are waiting lists to get into CSA's. I have often wondered why something like this wasn't available in Lawrence. Other parts of the country have them and bring in veggies from farther than 100 miles to satisfy the demand during the colder months. I do miss going to the Farmer's market on Saturday AM and seeing friends tho.

iMaMoM 9 years, 7 months ago

Lawrence does have a wonderful 'Farmer's Market'!!! I visited the Farmer's Market in McPherson Kansas over the weekend and was quite disappointed in the quanity and quality of their produce.

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