Question: I own a restaurant just outside the city and I’m interested in learning more about growing my own food. What are my options?

Answers: Great question! As it sounds like you’ve discovered, there are a number of benefits to growing your own food as a restaurant operator or retailer in the industry; there are also a number of ways you can do it, all of which will save you energy in the long run. Here’s what you need to know about growing your own food!

Farm-to-Fork: There’s no time like the present

The farm-to-fork movement has been gaining speed over the last few years and represents a trend that has to do with knowing where your food comes from; from the farm, all the way to your fork.

Cattle Network reports that a recent survey by the National Restaurant Association confirms the local sourcing of meat, produce and seafood as one of the hottest trends of 2012. For members of the foodservice industry, this comes as no surprise since shipping requires a lot of energy and local food tastes twice as fresh. More importantly, customers know it. Michael Ty, National President of the American Culinary Federation suggests that “Diners are requesting to know where their food comes from, and are concerned with how their choices affect the world around us.”

According to Coca-Cola Company, it’s not just start-ups filling a niche that are taking the farm-to-fork trend, also known as the farm-to-table movement, to heart. Chain restaurants like Tender Greens (Los Angeles), Farm Burger (Atlanta) and Paul Martin’s American Grill (California) are also finding ways to integrate the concept into their menus and store policy, establishing a culture of local, organic and ethical products that attract a new generation of clientele.

Are hydroponics right for you?

A harsh reality for restaurant and retail operators face in a country like Canada, where half the year is spent under frost, is the challenge of growing your own food all year round. This deterrent however, is slowly becoming obsolete, as people turn to hydroponics as an alternative method of growing your own produce using nutrient solutions in water, without soil.

Earlier this year, BizEnergy spoke with employees of Urban Produce, a start-up company in Toronto, with high hopes of working directly with retailers to ensure access to fresh, local produce 12 months a year. According to CBS Boston, companies like Freight Farms, a Massachusetts-based start-up, are taking similar steps within the American market. Freight Farms uses recycled, insulated shipping containers to form a hydroponic system of cultivation. Watch this video about how working with a supplier like Freight Farms can help your company save money on freight costs and lower your carbon footprint:

Interested in building your own greenhouse?

While many hotels, restaurants and retailers have taken to the idea of growing a select few menu items themselves (read about the rooftop garden and beehive at The Fairmont Royal York), if you’re a big enough player in the foodservice industry, it might be worth considering starting up your own greenhouse to save on the costs of shipping and provide your customers with the best you can grow. Recently, in fact, one well-known grocer has decided to do just that.

Whole Foods Market is building America’s first commercial-scale greenhouse farm integrated within a retail grocery store, reports Green Retail Decisions. The rooftop greenhouse will be located above the Whole Foods location in Brooklyn, New York and will measure 20,000 square feet. The greenhouse will be operated by a local supplier called Gotham Greens and provide pesticide-free produce for the Brooklyn Whole Foods Market as well as other commercial locations within the city.

Equipped with irrigation systems that require up to 20 times less water than conventional farming, and enhanced glazing materials and electrical equipment that are expected to reduce overall energy demand, Whole Food Markets energy savings are going to be big. The company will also be saving money on the long-distance transportation of good and be doing the environment a favour by cutting the emissions that go along with it.

image credit: travelinfool55

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