The Rapidian

Wholesale food hub makes local ingredients more accessible to restaurants

Through FarmLink, Grand Rapids restaurants can showcase local food on their menus. FarmLink started three years ago with the goal of creating beneficial relationships between chefs and farmers.
Reserve's Apple and Cheddar salad, made with items garnered through FarmLink.

Reserve's Apple and Cheddar salad, made with items garnered through FarmLink. /Caitlin Hoop

FarmLink

1111 Godfrey SW 

Grand Rapids,MI 49503

 

If you have any questions or are interested in learning more, email FarmLink.

Love's MadCap Third Coast Espresso ice cream. Love's is one of FarmLink's buyers.

Love's MadCap Third Coast Espresso ice cream. Love's is one of FarmLink's buyers. /Caitlin Hoop

Michigan is an agricultural mecca, with farms and orchards populating the fields of West Michigan. According to the Farm Bureau, Michigan is the second most agriculturally diverse in the United States. Year round, Grand Rapids chefs have a diverse selection of local ingredients at their disposal. Working with multiple individual farms simultaneously requires a lot of extra work for chefs, with the accounting, ordering and receiving that goes into the process for each purveyor.

Local entrepreneur Gerard Adams and his wife Amy Sherman, a chef, saw this problem and strove to make acquiring farmer’s seasonal crops simpler and more easily accessible.

Three years ago they created  West Michigan FarmLink, the sole food distribution hub selling 100% local harvest to Grand Rapid restaurants. Created as a means to facilitate beneficial relationships between chefs and farmers, they encourage any farmers and chefs in West Michigan to participate.

“Chefs and farmers are brilliant people, and I just wanted to bring them together,” explains Adams.

Buying local produce has becoming second nature to many residents of Grand Rapids; one could essentially survive on eating only local in West Michigan. Shopping local does take time and dedication, but transparency is justification for restaurants to source locally. Chefs, as well as consumers, want to know exactly where the product came from.

“FarmLink allows me to have a connection to my product as well as the farmer.” says Matt Green, Executive Chef at Reserve Wine and Food.

How FarmLink works is fairly simple. The 30 farms list their products on the website Thursday evenings, and then chefs have from Friday through Monday to place their orders based on what produce is listed. Tuesday farmers harvest the items purchased, and Wednesday the 30 participating restaurants pick up their orders from FarmLink’s warehouse office found at 1111 Godfrey. Restaurants can choose from not only vegetables and fruits year round, but also meats, artisinal cheeses and greenhouse greens.

“[FarmLink] is a very straightforward and simple cause-driven business.” said Adams. “I believe in an open marketplace, and [FarmLink] is the platform for that to happen.”

Working with this food hub is beneficial, says Adams, for both the farmer and restaurant. Not only is it convenient for chefs to order product from multiple farmers in one central hub, but it is also beneficial for the smaller farmers who focus on fewer items to grow, such as The Urban Mushroom. FarmLink's distribution hub allows Mary Ann Faulkner, The Urban Mushroom's owner and mushroom cultivator, the luxury of spending more time on her artisan fungi and less time worrying about multiple deliveries. And for a small business such as Faulkner's, FarmLink allows more exposure.

"Through FarmLink I have been able to connect with so many restaurants and chefs I may not have known," says Faulkner. "It grows my small business because this platform allows chefs to find a quality sustainable product in my mushrooms."

Chefs are attracted to the funky and unique varietals of produce they can’t find anywhere else.

“The thing that drew me to FarmLink was the vendors,” says Green. “Some of the vendors they have, like Heidi’s Farmstand or The Fishmonger’s Wife, I just can’t get anywhere else. This way I have a connection with the farmer as well as the product, which fits well into the network of purveyors Reserve currently has.”

FarmLink allows not only for chefs to have a relationship with farmers regarding their product, but also in terms of education.

“I learned so much about growing from these farmers,” explains Chris Perkey, executive chef of Osteria Rossa. Perkey buys the majority of his product needs through FarmLink, in conjunction with the specialty one of a kind produce items. “Almost every single one of our menu options contain an ingredient facilitated by FarmLink.” 

Having recently expanded their distribution out to the lakeshore, FarmLink is growing exponentially for a three year old distribution hub.

“We have almost quadrupled in all aspects year to year, and I don’t even feel like we have scratched the surface yet.” said Adams. “We are in it to try and make a difference and to connect the farmer to the chef- simple as possible.”

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