1. Commitment. Buy consistently from a core group of farmers and fishermen so they know what to expect, or communicate with your farmer/fisherman that you may be making purchases once in a while. Remember, if one of your producers has an item ready now and it isn't picked up, it may end up being tossed at a financial loss to the producer.
2. Delivery. Establish a delivery schedule with your farmer and fisherman.
3. Buying. Both buyers and sellers think about their bottom line. Expect to pay a fair price and consider that a local farmer's and fisherman's cost may be more than commercial shipped-in product. Don't expect the farmer and fisherman to be selling at a discount. Buy willingly and challenge yourself to use it well. Establish a predictable routine with your farmer and fisherman for phone calls, orders, and questions. Communicate what works for you, and you will receive great product.
4. Education. Continue to learn about the items your farmer grows and fisherman catches. Inspire your co-workers and employees to do the same. Items coming directly from a farm or the sea may look different from commercial items that your employees are used to seeing. They need to know how best to take advantage of that difference. Use the farmers and fishermen as a resource for learning about seasons, product use and availability.
5. Talk to your grower and fisherman. Taste the product with them and talk to them about what you plan to do with it and what it will be paired with. Ask your grower and fisherman how they use it. Most farmers and fishermen are great cooks because they cook directly from their field or the sea. If you are unhappy with something let them know and why. It is in their interest to make you happy. Talk to your grower and fisherman about trends and request varieties you're interested in.
6. Cultivate trust. There is always a degree of uncertainty regarding the catch size, crop size and quality. Remain flexible and patient with your farmer and fisherman. It often takes weeks of production time and lots of luck to come up with a crop or catch, and things can happen overnight!
7. Be Flexible: Use what is fresh and in season. It will make your plates better. Generalize your menus. If certain vegetables or fish are fresh that day they can be incorporated into a dish without changing the menu. Take advantage of daily specials.
Chances are if you have someone growing or catching your product directly for you, you'll find yourself with great starting ingredients and the potential for a rewarding relationship with farmers and fishermen.
©Ecotrust and the Portland Chapter of the Chefs Collaborative