Making a link between farm and restaurant table

WASHINGTON — You love getting fresh food on your plate at home, but how about when you go out to eat? How “local” is that “locally-sourced” food at your favorite restaurant?

In Montgomery County, there’s an effort to make sure that that lettuce isn’t lame and those carrots are crisp, as the Department of Economic Development is working to generate links between farmers and restaurants.

Chef-turned-farmer, Mark Mills says the county’s efforts are helping his small three-acre farm, Chocolates and Tomatoes. He’s already found a place at the table with Rockville’s Chef Geoff’s.

Mills says the arrangement works well for everyone: Chef Geoff’s can call him up and put in a request for produce, and, he says, “I can put it in the ground; I can grow that vegetable for them to their specifications.”

Mills says the cooperation leads to a great cross-promotion for county businesses.

“A lot of restaurants are doing that now too. They put the name of the farmer on the menu so people can know where their ingredients are sourced from.”

Mills also benefited from the county’s beginning-farmer pilot program.

“They hooked me up with a land owner, and here we are!”

Standing at his stall at the Olney Farmer’s Market, Mills shows off his onions, lettuces, radishes — and chocolates. The Peach Cream, Huckleberry-Rosemary and Hint of Berry chocolates are made with locally grown fruits and fair-trade chocolate.

Theresa Nolan, who was stopping by to get some greens at Mills’ stall, explained why she shops at farmer’s markets.

“You can meet the farmer themselves, and you can ask them questions, and it just gives you that feeling of trust,” Nolan says.

Mills says he loves that interaction, saying it allows him to draw from his background as a chef as well as a farmer.

“I can tell them they can use the radish greens for pesto, they can use turnip greens for this or for that,” he says.

Mills’ biggest challenge? Battling bugs.

“To do everything organically and pesticide-free means that we’re just battling insects, we’re battling weeds, we’re battling weather constantly.”

But the rewards, he says, are great.

“When you look up and you see all the beautiful produce and you know that it’s clean and fresh — that’s a wonderful thing.”

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.

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