Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is boosting markets for local farmers and food businesses at its taproom in Mills River, North Carolina. While the ingredients for beer are not prevalent in our region, Sierra Nevada is showing its commitment to local through its taproom restaurant. It reports spending nearly one million dollars on locally and regionally sourced products in 2016.
Sourcing from multiple farms requires a lot of organization, says Jessie Massie, executive chef at the taproom. “On the chef’s part, it does take a lot more work than it does just to order off a truck. You have a lot more invoicing and inventory and coding work that goes along with ordering locally because instead of ordering from one or two vendors you end up ordering from 20,” she says.
Sierra Nevada sources produce, cheese, beef, bison, rabbit and fish from 17 Appalachian Grown farms throughout the year, and also grows vegetables, honey, and mushrooms in its estate garden. Local items are also supplemented with regional products and the menu features the names of farms that they buy from on a consistent basis.
Why go through the extra trouble to coordinate with each individual farm? Massie says it’s part of Sierra Nevada’s larger goal to support the local community and to reduce the environmental footprint of the restaurant. For her, as a chef, it also comes down to freshness.
“There’s just something about knowing that what I’m putting on my plate came out of the field yesterday. Like we get heirloom tomatoes from Holly Spring Farm. I know that when he brings them to me, he probably picked them that morning. They’ve never been in a refrigerator, they’re the highest quality that I can get them, and they’re delicious,” she says.
In addition to freshness and flavor, local purchasing is aso about relationships, and chef Massie sits down with farmers before the crops even go in the ground. “We talk in the wintertime, maybe January or February, when they’re looking through their seed catalogues and we say, ‘This is what I’d like to see in spring,’ and they go ahead and start planning it out and figuring out how many rows and acres and poundage that we’ll need and then we go from there, she says.”
The process is called “crop planning” and Massie does it with several farms, including Freedom Farm in Old Fort, North Carolina. Farmers Daniel Price and Ginger Dermott are relatively new to Western North Carolina. They had a produce farm in South Freedom, Maine for 10 years before they decided to move their operation to North Carolina to be closer to family in Asheville and Florida, and to try their hand at growing heat-loving crops like melons and peppers. Last year they reached out to Sierra Nevada to see if the taproom would be interested in buying their produce.
“What we like about them is volume because it’s nice to hit up one place with a big order instead of a bunch of smaller restaurants. I would much rather grow big, beautiful collards and sell six cases to one place than fuss around with a lot of different specialty stuff,” says farmer Daniel Price.
There are always challenges to farming in a new region and finding new buyers. Price is adjusting to the unpredictable climate of Western North Carolina, and says he needs a buyer who can be flexible when certain crops don’t work out. But he does appreciate seeing the name of his farm on the menu.
Listing the name Freedom Farm next to a dish that features its peppers might seem like a small detail, but Massie says it helps to convey Sierra Nevada’s mission to support local food. Farmers regularly visit the taproom to talk to servers about their ingredients so they can share that knowledge with customers. Line cooks go on quarterly farm tours to see where the ingredients in their kitchen are produced, including a recent visit to Brasstown Beef where they source their hamburger meat.
“To be able to get out of the kitchen and go out and actually have a contact with a farmer and see the fields and and the cows and everything firsthand, and all the farmers are so passionate when you go out to see them and I feel like sometimes their passion rubs off on my cooks and myself,” she says.
There are still some ingredients, like chicken wings and celery, that are hard to source locally at the volume Sierra Nevada needs. “We’re constantly trying to think of ‘what can I put on the menu’ or ‘what can I replace that with it that’s local’ and sometimes it pushes our buttons and envelopes a little bit to get it done, but it’s always a work in progress,” Massie says.
To help celebrate ASAP’s Farm Tour, Sierra Nevada Brewing is hosting Brews and Barns Dinner. The event is a four-course, beer-paired, family style dinner featuring ingredients from participating farms on the Farm Tour. It will take place Thursday, June 22 at 6 pm in Sierra Nevada’s High Gravity Room and proceeds benefit ASAP. Visit www.asapconnections.org for ticket information.