Eat Local First: Weeklong celebration includes farm-to-table dining and more

Many Washington area diners are savvy about where their food comes from; hundreds of thousands visit area farmers markets every year. But the local-food movement is more than markets, as Stacey Price, executive director of Think Local First D.C., will be the first to remind people.

“Local, independent restaurants: They’re going to be more thoughtful about their menu creation. We like to tell consumers to start there,” said Price, whose nonprofit group supports independent businesses in the region and encourages consumers to do so with their wallets. “Making the choice to go to the local restaurant, attending their farmers market: They’re helping create a D.C. that’s more interesting to live in.”

People seem to be getting the message. Eat Local First Week, now in its third year, continues to grow. July 22-27, you can drink beer brewed from ingredients commonly found on local foraging expeditions. You can tour edible urban gardens, and cool off afterward with a seasonal drink from Big Bear Cafe. And you can eat and drink your way through the 125 vendors at the Farm-to-Street block party at Union Market, closing out the week.

In between those events, you can dine out at restaurants offering special locavore menu items. For some of them, it’s business as usual; restaurants such as Table and Farmers Fishers Bakers incorporate sustainability and local sourcing into their menus all year round.

Art and Soul, which features local purveyors throughout its regular menu, is planning a three-course vegetarian menu during the week. It’s the first time the restaurant has participated in Farm-to-Table Restaurant Week, as Think Local First is calling it. Art and Soul chef Wes Morton consulted the regular cadre of farmers he buys from to develop a special meal that he says is 90 percent locally sourced. It’s fresh and summery, from the chilled heirloom tomato soup to the goat cheese ravioli paired with Virginia wine to the Carolina Gold rice custard cake.

Some of the local sources for the menu are Golden Angels Apiary, Saunders Brothers Orchard and Brightwood Vineyard and Farm.

“It’s everything that’s peaking at that moment that we wanted to highlight,” he said. “We took a step further by making it a full vegetarian menu.”

Another restaurant, Cedar, is featuring a menu that’s about as hyper-local as it gets. Chef Aaron McCloud’s offerings, which will include bison carpaccio, heritage chicken and tomatoes five ways, will be created in part with ingredients he harvests from the rooftop garden growing above the restaurant.

If other restaurants aren’t as local, it’s not necessarily for lack of desire; the biggest obstacle for restaurants that want to source regionally is convenience, said Price. Instead of forging relationships with small farmers, many restaurants rely on the predictability and efficiency of bigger distributors.

“It’s not something you can call up at night and have delivered,” Price said. “At the end of the day it comes down to time, cost and accessibility.”

And as more restaurants go local, one new business launching during Eat Local First Week aims to make it easier for consumers to find them. Greenease, the product of sustainable-event planner Vanessa Ferragut, is a Web site designed to make it easier for consumers to find restaurants that use local products and to learn about their providers. The Web site also will classify restaurants that offer vegan, gluten-free and organic food, among other categories.

Ferragut said the site arose from her desire for a comprehensive, objective place to find food that fit her green lifestyle.

“When you use Web sites like Yelp, you can type in ‘local’ or ‘organic,’ but all that does is search the consumer’s rating,” said Ferragut. She and her team have spent months compiling a database of 430 restaurants from Frederick to Virginia Beach, and they have called farms to verify that restaurants are telling the truth about their sourcing. So far, she says, she has found only one liar.

The site will offer freebies, such as a glass of wine or dessert at participating restaurants. It will officially launch July 22, and Ferragut says she hopes to expand to other markets.

“What I thought was great about launching in D.C. is that we are so fortunate here, because we’ve got farms all over the place,” said Ferragut. “We’re not one of these states that is in a food desert. We’re fortunate to have a lot of restaurants sourcing from local farms, helping local economies out.”

For a complete listing of events, go to www.eatlocalfirstdc.com.

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.
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