Soon, a window sticker will advertise which restaurants in Moab are using food grown by local farms. The sticker will begin to appear within a couple of months, as a result of the efforts of Utah Farm-Chef-Fork, a collaborative program created through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Utah State University Extension Sustainability.
The idea for the local food stickers came out of a Feb. 2 meeting of local farmers and business owners facilitated by USU-Moab Sustainable Communities Extension Specialist Roslynn Brain and Farm-Chef-Fork intern Shiree Duncan. The group met at 98 Center, where chef and owner Alex Borichevsky provided drinks and snacks for the event.
Kristen Lavelett, executive director of the nonprofit Local First Utah, discussed the economic, social and environmental benefits that local, independent businesses provide to the community.
“If you spend at least $100 at a locally owned business, $55.30 stays in our local economy ... Whereas if you buy that at a national retailer, only $13.60 stays,” Lavelett said.
She said that in a changing economy, a variety of small businesses are more resilient than fewer larger businesses, and less likely to boom and bust.
Lavelett invited Moab area businesses to join Local First Utah, an independent business alliance with a mission, she said, “to teach the public, the government and business owners about the value and vitality of locally owned businesses to our economy and our community.” There is no charge for businesses to join the Local First online directory.
Participants at the Feb. 2 gathering discussed the value and challenges of sourcing food locally. Area restaurant representatives expressed the need for high-quality, consistently available produce, which is sometimes difficult for very small farms to provide.
“We get a lot of people requesting [local produce] and we want to know how to get it,” said Dylan Warren of Desert Bistro. “As long as we can get local, consistent and good quality, I think it’s a good thing for people to get into.”
Ali Fuller Matz, a small farmer and owner of Sister Root Medicinals, said part of the issue is that there are only a small number of farmers in Moab.
“You need several farmers for crop failures. I think Moab’s biggest problem is a lack of farmers,” Matz said. “You really need to have a big pool because farming is never ever guaranteed.”
For that reason, she said, “It seems like the stickers should have a lot of leniency.”
Long-time local farmer Greg Nunn said those growing crops also must be consistent.
“People need to get more of their act together on the farmers’ side in order to be consistent,” Nunn said. “If you can’t have a consistent farmer, then you can’t have a consistent buyer.”
After the meeting Duncan created a summary of criteria for restaurants to meet in order to display the Moab Local sticker. Participating restaurants will join the Local First Utah directory. They will also serve a special highlighting at least three locally sourced products during Eat Local Week, an event that Farm-Chef-Fork will organize for the second week of September.
Restaurants will also choose two other actions, such as buying from a local producer once a month or participating in a chef cook-off at the Moab Farmers’ Market on Sept. 8, at the beginning of Eat Local Week.
The sticker design and associated text have yet to be determined. Ideas for the slogan include “Homegrown Moab” and “Moab Grown, Moab Sourced,” among others. Duncan plans to create a competition for high school students to design the logo and will offer a prize for the winner.
A March meeting of local farmers organized by Farm-Chef-Fork will be intended to connect the needs of restaurants and growers, Duncan said.
“I’m hoping within the next month to have commitments from the restaurants [to buy local produce],” she said.
The Moab Local sticker is just one step on a longer path toward a stronger local economy, said Duncan.
“I believe in localizing the economy and I would like to see Moab have a diverse strong economy,” Duncan said. “People want to do the right thing. They want to create a world that’s local, sustainable, and just keep our resources in our local economy. People want to have the wealth to stay here and create healthy environments. And farming is definitely a way to do that.”