When Carlos Vera dreamed of opening a restaurant, he knew he wanted to support local producers. For more than a year, Vera has been doing just that -- more than 90% of his product falls from within a 100-mile radius, with most of it from even closer.
"It’s a complete belly-up business," Vera said. "We want to put back into our community as well as our economy."
Taco Locale in Wichita brings in chicken, beef and cucumbers from Buhler, Hillsdale, Inman, Latham and Lindsborg. Vera, who was trained at Le Cordon Bleu of Culinary Arts in Austin, Texas, brings in the full carcasses and cuts them to his specifications.
Vera heard and tasted the home-grown corn of Gaeddert Farms in Buhler. He sought them out and uses their corn in his specialty tacos.
"Restaurants are coming to us and seeking the product," said Tonya Martisko, co-owner of Gaeddert Farms. "We love the support of local restaurants. It’s good for both of us."
Locally sourced food is trending nationwide. Along with keeping money in the community and keeping community farms flourishing, buying local promotes crop rotation, increases the freshness of food, encourages shorter transportation, decreases the use of preservatives and educates consumers on seasonal growing patterns.
"The trend is absolutely more purchasing of sustainable food," said Michael Oshman the CEO and founder of Green Restaurant Association. "The closer you have your food, the less transportation miles you use."
In addition to supporting local foods, The Green Restaurant Association focuses on food that is grown sustainably and, in the case of animals, humanely.
But keeping the food fresh and economical is a challenge. Food from large companies is less expensive and, because they usually use preservatives, the goods have a longer shelf life. In addition, by staying local, the restaurant is limited by Kansas growing seasons.
Because Vera is a trained chef, he is able to keep the food in rotation and gear his recipes around the seasons. He also makes purees and sauces for his tacos. As far as meats and cheese, they are year-round. All Vera’s cheese for his nachos comes from Jason Wiebe Dairy in Durham.
"The ingredients seem so much fresher, and I like the fusion about it," said regular customer Maria Tifford. "I like trying what’s grown locally."
Vera gets his tortillas and tacos from Wichita-based start-up company Pinole Blue.
"They’re following historical procedures from the times of the Aztecs," Vera said. "They grind them with volcanic stones."
Josh Molello, of Strong Roots Healthy Farming in Valley Center, supplies tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers to eight local restaurants, including Taco Locale.
"I can feed more people this way," Molello said. "The chefs work around the locality. It kind of teaches people to eat seasonally."
Modello said it was time for him to change over to his fall crops. He is excited to get his root vegetables into the ground, and Vera is just as interested in trying out new recipes.
Along with keeping food local, Vera wants to keep the community alive and thriving.
"We can keep the money in our community, supporting local farmers," Vera said. "We are adaptable just like the farmers."