WASHINGTON — On Monday night, more than 100 men and women flooded the bar of Bluejacket Brewery for a speed-dating event. Only, they weren’t looking for love. They were looking for chefs.
“We wanted to improve the ability of farmers to sell to chefs,” explained Pamela Hess, the executive director of Arcadia Farms and the matchmaker-in-chief at the Farmer-Chef Summit.
Arcadia started the summit five years ago with closer to 40 participants after noticing how quickly business deals get done when the two parties, who often keep opposite schedules, are in the same room at the same time.
“One of the top trends nationwide is local sourcing. People want to eat food grown by farmers in their immediate area,” Hess said. “What we’ve found is that if a farmer and a chef can meet, share a beer, shake some hands and talk about their mutual interests, sourcing becomes much easier.”
For new business owners Jordon Masters and Matt Pefferman, the event was a chance to introduce their West Virginia microgreen business to D.C.’s restaurant community. The two operate a 5,400-square-foot greenhouse in Morgantown, where they grow a collection of specialty shoots, greens and flowers for restaurants and resorts.
Having just launched in November, Masters said finding time to break away from the greenhouse to market their products is a challenge.
“We work quite a bit, so it is hard to get away to do things like this. So today we’re here just to see what we can do as far as make sales,” he said.
Michael Histon and his wife, Colleen, of Shepherds Manor Creamery, attended the summit for the fourth time. Thanks to past events, they’ve partnered up with restaurants such as The Inn at Little Washington and Zaytinya.
“You get straight to the people who appreciate your products and that know how to use them,” Histon said.
It’s saved them time from making cold calls to area restaurants, and it’s helped them narrow down their list of potential clients.
“Cheeses and dairy items are extremely complicated to make and the taste variations are all over the map, so you’ve cut down the exposure time of trying to find a certain niche market at a high-end restaurant where the patrons at that restaurant would appreciate a high-quality product,” Histon added.
If there’s one thing Daniel Liberson of Lindera Farms appreciates about the occasion, it’s that he and other producers get to avoid the logistical nightmare of driving into the city and making the rounds at each restaurant — an undertaking that often involves a few parking tickets.
“If you take a look at the expenditure that most small businesses have in terms of trying to build wholesale clients first, it’s a lot in terms of just travel and physical labor,” said Liberson, whose vinegars are used in restaurants such as Minibar and Pineapple and Pearls.
“And then just think about that from a traffic perspective. People who live in D.C. do not like having to drive from Northwest to Northeast and then hit all of the restaurants in between.”
Of course, the Farmer-Chef Summit isn’t just a win for farmers. At a previous event, Red Apron Butcher’s Nathan Anda met Alec Bradford of Leaping Waters Farm in Southwest Virginia.
Last week, Anda opened his new Dupont Circle eatery, Red Apron Burger Bar, where he sells Bradford’s Ancient White Park grass-fed, grass-finished beef.
“It’s been an awesome way to meet farmers that aren’t usually at a farmers market or just easy to come by,” Anda said.