Utah Farm-Chef-Fork: Linking Rural Growers with Urban Chefs to Enhance Local Food Sourcing

Kynda R. Curtis1[1] and Roslynn Brain2

1 College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, Utah State University, Logan, Utah, USA; 2College of Natural Resources, Utah State University, Moab, Utah, USA

Growth in Food Tourism and Demand for Local Foods

The rise in consumer demand for local foods in the US is demonstrated by a number of measures, including the 185% increase in farmers’ markets from 2000 to 2014, the 275% increase in community supported agriculture (CSA) programmes from 2004 to 2014 and the 288% increase in regional food hubs from 2007 to 2014 (Low et al., 2015). In 2012, 7.8% of US farms sold US$6.1 billion in food through local direct marketing channels, which included intermediate sales of local food to grocers, restaurants, institutions and food service (USDA-ERS, 2008). The National Grocers Association 2014 Consumer Survey Report found that the availability of local foods was a major influence on grocery shopping decisions, as 87.2% of respondents rated the availability of local food as ‘very or somewhat important’ and 44.2% rated it as ‘very important’ when choosing a grocery store (National Grocers Association, 2014). Locally grown food availability was the second most desired improvement among surveyed grocery shoppers. In fact, 32% of respondents said they would consider purchasing their groceries elsewhere if their preferred store did not carry locally sourced foods. While only 15% of the respondents indicated they shop at national supermarket chains, Wal-Mart and Kroger have incorporated local food sourcing into their long-term growth strategies (Rushing, 2013).

This trend towards local food is also illustrated by the growing emphasis on food-related tourism. The US Travel Association reports that

27 million travellers (17% of American travellers) engaged in gastronomic activities while travelling, across a three-year period (Sohn and Yuan, 2013). Food tourism is the practice of exploration through food consumption, in which individuals eat unfamiliar food or participate in foreign food customs in order to learn about or understand other cultures (Ryan and Brown, 2011). Food tourism examples include farm stays, beer and wine festivals, food festivals, brewery tours, ethnic restaurants, etc. Food tourism has become such a worldwide trend that Brand USA (a US destination-marketing programme) specifically promotes regional cuisines to draw visitors to the US.

Patronizing traditional and local-sourcing restaurants is a common way in which food tourists explore and experience a destination. The desire to visit local-sourcing restaurants is evidenced by the National Restaurant Association’s 2015 Restaurant Industry Forecast, which reported that 70% of consumers were more likely to visit a restaurant offering locally sourced items. Additionally, the ‘Top 5 2015 Menu Trends’ included locally sourced proteins (meats, seafood, etc.) and locally grown produce as the top two trends (National Restaurant Association, 2015). Schmit et al. (2010) found that restaurant patrons in New York strongly supported the sourcing of local food in restaurants and preferred to eat at those that prepare local foods. These studies demonstrate the benefits of sourcing local food for chefs and restaurant owners, given customer interest in local foods, especially while travelling.

Utah is a primary tourism destination for National Park visitors, skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts, as well as those wishing to experience Mormon heritage. In 2013, Utah had 23.5 million visitors, including 4.2 million skier visits and 10.4 million State/National Park visits. Tourism is a key industry for Utah, as total visitor spending in 2012 was $7.5 billion (Leaver, 2014). The cuisine offered in cities near key tourism destinations, such as Salt Lake City, Park City, Moab and Springdale, has become an important attraction for visitors and has resulted in the expansion of locally owned restaurants (Yang, 2014). Rural-urban linkages, in terms of connections between urban chefs and rural growers and ranchers, will be necessary to improve the tourist experience in Utah, especially for those visitors interested in food culture. The following case study will examine Utah Farm-Chef-Fork, a programme of Utah State University (USU) Extension, which focuses on fostering connections between growers, ranchers and chefs in Utah, and, ultimately, on increasing the volume of locally sourced restaurant ingredients in urban areas.

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