LaSalle restaurants partner with farm for locally sourced foods, education

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By: J.C. Lee
jclee@flavor574.com

LaSalle restaurants are partnering with a Niles, Mich., farm to get more locally sourced food onto their plates.

LaSalle Hospitality Group has joined nonprofit Bertrand Farms Inc. as a shareholder in its community sponsored agriculture program (CSA), so its chefs can count on getting fresh locally sourced vegetables into their kitchens regularly.

In return, the farm can count on having the restaurants’ business throughout the season and, in the process, teach a culinary intern a thing or two about sustainable agriculture.

Bertrand Farm, Inc. is an educational facility based in Niles, Mich., which works to encourage people to eat and farm healthy and take care of the earth.

With the new partnership, a small portion of the the 10½-acre farm, dubbed LaSalle Gardens, will be dedicated to growing crops to be served up at the group’s restaurants, such as LaSalle Grill and LaSalle Kitchen & Tavern in South Bend.

“You can certainly buy (produce) from mainline vendors, but wouldn’t you rather have something that was grown 10 miles away by people you trust and have known for years?” owner Mark McDonnell said.

A culinary internship is also being offered as part of the program. The intern will divide his or her time between working in restaurants’ kitchens and tending their crops at LaSalle Gardens.

The program, which is funded by a Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education Grant, would allow the intern to get hands-on experience in growing and preparing food.

They’ll tend to crops like tomatoes, green beans and sweet peas, and then learn the ropes in the kitchen as a novice cook would, McDonnell said. Over the course of his internship, the internship will move through different positions in the kitchen.

”Eventually I imagine he will become a chef or a farmer but, either way, he has an appreciate of where the food comes from, how it’s harvested, how it’s produced,” McDonnell said.

One of the reasons for the partnership is that it can be a challenge to get enough locally sourced food to meet the restaurant group’s needs, McDonnell said. One vendor might not have all the potatoes they need, so they would have to seek out several different farmers for that one ingredient. Working more closely with Bertrand Farms on a customized growing program helps make sure they can get exactly what those kitchens need.

LaSalle Hospitality Grou and Bertrand Farms had a similar partnership back in 2012, which was interrupted after a season when an oil pipeline was rebuilt through their fields, McDonnell said.

You can find out more about Bertrand Farm, Inc.’s culinary internship at the farm’s website.

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