Posted on Thu, February 05, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
8 Comments | Categories: Farms and Farming,
Meet Chef David Swanson, of Braise Culinary Academy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is a Terra Madre ‘08 delegate, and—with the help of a grant from the state of Wisconsin through their Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin program—last summer he started an RSA. We had a chat with Dave, to find out more about RSAs.
Q: What is an RSA? How is it similar to a CSA?
RSA or Restaurant Supported Agriculture is based on the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model. The CSA model allows farmers to create a better cash flow by having members pre-pay for their subscription. The RSA follows this by having restaurants pre-pay a portion, bringing in immediate revenue for the farmer. A little different format is that the RSA works with the farmers and businesses so the surprise aspect is taken out of the equation. Some businesses need a steadier supply of ingredients rather than waiting to see what shows up at their back door.
The biggest obstacle with restaurants/businesses working with local ingredients is to change their way of thinking. We need a paradigm shift in the way we think about food, its value, its importance to a well balanced life and how we view the people who grow our food. Not an easy goal to obtain, but the RSA is attempting this through education. Bringing the chefs and farmers together, creating a common language.
Q: Can you describe the benefits for each party?
Restaurants: a steady supply of products at a better cost along with saving the chef/owner time in foraging for items.
Farmers: upfront payments allow better cash flow. To create better efficiencies on the farm; using up surplus, working with composting, etc
I am reasonable with what I ask the restaurants to pre-pay since they are a cash flow business. It usually comes in at a small percentage, this keeps farmers from having to borrow money for seeds and infrastructure costs at the start of the season. The remaining balance is paid quarterly or monthly depending on the account.
Q: Do you deal solely with produce or do you do livestock as well?
The RSA will provide proteins (beef, chicken, lamb, dairy) among other local items including wild rice, cranberries, maple syrup, sorghum. The RSA will slowly roll out items in the future.
Q: What inspired you to start the program?
I have been sourcing locally for my entire chef career. Learning to use what was in season and at the market under French chefs taught me the value of good food. Working in different parts of the country, each with unique circumstances with regards to using local food, exposed me to many different approaches. Upon settling in Milwaukee and understanding the challenges. I began creating a system to make it easier to source locally and from that grew the RSA.
Q: Will the program growis there demand on both sides (chefs and farmers) to increase it?
The program has had incredible response from both sides. The growth rate needs to be natural and organic. The limiting factor will be supply. Increasing the amount of farmers growing sustainable in our area is the major focus.
Q: What would you say characterizes your food community/foodshed?
We have a very diverse foodshed: alliums and brassicas grow wonderfully in our area. Other root crops such as beet, carrot, parsnip and salsify are storage staples. These are typical items of a value oriented society that immigrated from central Europe. The fact that root cellaring is still prevalent in the Midwest makes me smile.
Q: In a region with such a short growing season, how do youas a chef—address seasonal eating and serving in the lean months?
The RSA that I started in Milwaukee will be very different than a similar program in another area of the U.S. The RSA is tailored fit to work with these individuals, both the chefs and farmers. Chefs and farmers in other areas have different views and goals, not to mention geography which greatly influences farming practices. Extending the growing season is very important. Providing infrastructure to farmers (hoophouses, greenhouses, etc..) will allow items such as spinach to have an extended season. Addressing the issue of preserving is very important. Canning, curing, drying are things everyone especially chefs have to relearn.