Farming Industry Impacting Boston’s Summer Tables

By Barbara L. Vergetis Lundin

Concerts on the Charles River Esplanade, strolling around Faneuil Hall, browsing farmers markets…these are just a few things that might come to mind when you think summer in Boston. Boston’s strong farming industry impacts the food system, shaping regional summer food trends.

More than ever, the dishes being served in Boston restaurants are designed around the farm, indicative of the area’s thriving culinary scene and the ever-expanding impact chefs and buyers are having on the food system.

From the Farm

Smaller cafes are focusing on all-day menus — challenging the concept of what a “meal” looks like, according to Matt Weingarten, culinary director at Dig Inn, a farm-to-counter fast-casual chain that is moving to Boston in late May 2016.

“Eggs for dinner is becoming widely accepted, as are dishes like breakfast bowls (recycling last night’s leftover veggies),” he said.

Weingarten notes some of the trends hitting Boston tables this summer:

  • A continued focus on toasts with interesting toppings, as well as petit pots and shareable experiences, creating more community around the table

  • Whole roasted vegetables at the forefront of meals, pushing meats to more of a flavoring or side

  • Boutique greens such as peppergrass, sorrel, and red flame mustard that pack a punch with bold, clean flavors

  • More of the lesser known plant varietals like sunchokes and candy-stripe beets

  • Sweet to savory transitions — sugar and processed foods are on the decline

  • Kombucha, as well as matcha — things that are fresh and fruity, without being overly high in sugar content

  • Nut (or alternate) milk-based shakes and smoothies, and (a favorite at Dig Inn) shrubs

  • Exotic and international flavors like cardamom and dukkah

But it’s about more than just ingredients. An increasing emphasis is also being placed on transparency.

Certified Sustainability

As part of this transparency, those in the Boston food chain are taking it upon themselves to become sustainably certified, and making that certification well-known wherever they can. Specifically, the certification is the “Sustainable Business Leader” issued by the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts, which ensures sustainable business practices that keep environmental impacts to a minimum, as well as the use of reclaimed materials and increased energy-efficiency practices. The ultimate goal of the Sustainable Business Network is to transform the local food system so that by the year 2060, 50 percent of all food eaten by New Englanders is sourced from New England.

Who’s Walking the Talk?

One example of that mission is Mei Mei, whose owners say the restaurant “will always serve meat that is local, all-natural, pasture-raised, and humanely slaughtered” and source “seasonal, sustainably raised foods from local and family-based producers.” Further, the owners say that all of their meat, eggs and milk, and most of their produce, are acquired within 200 miles of Boston.

Fresh Food Generation, a food truck business, prides itself on being a green company that sources its ingredients from local farms and is committed to using compostable or recyclable materials. Further, you’ll find the food truck serving local communities where healthy options are usually difficult to find.

For Panificio Bistro & Bakery, “farm-to-table” is more than just a buzzword. The café has teamed up with Sweet Georgia P, the first Community Supported Agriculture Farm to serve Beacon Hill, and actually owns shares in the farm. In exchange, the farm delivers fresh organic produce and eggs right to the café.

Ula Cafe builds sustainability practices into its operations systems. In addition to purchasing local food — from bread and tofu to tea and soda — Ula composts all of its food waste, including to-go containers. Staff is provided reusable dishware. Even Ula’s menus are environmentally friendly. They are printed on FSC-certified recycled paper with soy ink.

As a member of Boston Buying Power, Ula invests in renewable energy through the use of renewable energy credits, which support demand for building new, clean wind power. In addition to year-round education initiatives, Ula touts its efforts at the Sustainable Business Network’s annual Local Food Festival.

Other local restaurants like Area Four Restaurant, Christopher’s, Cambridge Common, ZuZu Restaurant, West Side Lounge, and Koy hold true to some of the same ideals.

“People want to know what’s in their food, and where it’s coming from…Sourcing is becoming more holistic than simply the growing practices of ingredients — but also addressing the larger concerns of labor practices as well as community and environmental impact,” said Weingarten. “Minimizing waste is a huge focus across the industry right now, with a lot of information being published on the topic, and consumers demanding more from their restaurants and food providers. For us, this means working with ‘ugly’ off cuts, remnants, and bin ends.”

The fresh-casual restaurant sector will continue to grow and drastically transform what the dining landscape looks like. In fact, Weingarten predicts that, within five years, the principles herein will be commonplace across the fresh-casual space.