The industry that’s eating JP

September 9, 2011
By

Local food thrives in area shops

For Jamaica Plain residents “local flavor” is more than a reference to the neighborhood’s atmosphere. It describes the food they can find in their stores and restaurants, where locally grown and made food is the new trend, and it is an integral part of the economy.

Local farmers, confectioners, tofu manufacturers, ice cream makers and mushroom gatherers all play roles in what Morgan Ward, buyer for local grocer City Feed & Supply, called an “amazing local food infrastructure.”

One of the most obvious signs of local foods’ popularity is how eager local restaurants are to get their hands on it.

Allandale Farm—a JP farm which has been in operation for 250 years on Allandale Street near the JP/Brookline border—sells produce to Canto 6 Bakery, Ten Tables, Vee Vee and Tres Gatos.

“There are at least two other restaurants that I know of” that are interested in buying from the farm, Allandale manager John Lee told the Gazette. But, with its own thriving retail trade, “We are selling everything,” he said.

Restaurateurs pointed to freshness, sustainability and desire to support local businesses as the main rationales for buying local.

“There is something to be said for food that comes from two miles away that was picked the morning it gotten eaten as opposed to food that got shrink-wrapped and shipped halfway across the country,” Christina McCarthy, a manager at Canto 6 Bakery, told the Gazette.

Speaking to the Gazette in June, former Haven chef Ben Waxler, whose last day was Saturday, told the Gazette that he had hoped the Hyde Square pub could purchase from Allandale this year. “I have been harassing [Lee], trying to get us on the list” to no avail, Waxler said.

Waxler told the Gazette that despite not being able to get produce from Allandale, the Haven is buying from New England farmers in season and mostly from farmers on the eastern seaboard out of season.

The Haven does employ the services of one JP produce seller: Benjamin Maleson, a JP resident who makes his living foraging wild mushrooms.

Maleson’s forging spots are a closely guarded secret. “What is it about the word secret that you don’t understand?” Maleson responded when asked by the Gazette if any of the spots are in JP.

But his business, which also includes distributing cultivated mushrooms from Colorado, is run out of an industrial refrigerator at his Boylston Street home, he said.

Canto 6 uses local produce—about a third of it from Allandale—for seasonal quiches sandwiches and berry scones, among other things, McCarthy said.

She, Waxler and VeeVee owner Dan Valechovic all told the Gazette that relying on local produce does require some flexibility. “Basically, we change the menu based on what’s available,” Valechovic said.

Other restaurants are riding the local food wave as well. Bella Luna co-owner and manger Carol Downs told the Gazette that her restaurant has been serving Real City Soda—a brand manufactured in Jackson Square by the Lenox-Martell company—for 20 years. But they have been focusing more on using Eastern Massachusetts-grown produce this year, she said.

While their products all end up in the same place, JP food producers are a diverse bunch—encompassing much more than soda, vegetables and mushrooms.

And they come in all shapes and sizes. A 31-year-old powerhouse on Boston’s ice cream scene, J.P. Licks produces ice cream for its 10 Boston-area stores at its JP headquarters on Centre Street. Founded in 2010, Batch Ice Cream sells small runs of its natural, mostly locally sourced ice cream to local retailers. It manufactures its wares out of the CropCircle Kitchen, a shared industrial kitchen at the Brewery Complex.

Like many local food producers—including tofu, lollipop and pasta and honey manufacturers, among others—Batch’s products are available at City Feed.

City Feed co-owner David Warner “has been very helpful. He was the first one to sell our product,” Susie Parish of Batch Ice Cream told the Gazette. “He gave us tips from working with other small producers,” she said, describing him as a “great resources.”

Ward told the Gazette that local products are City Feed’s “bread and butter,” but they are especially important for the store’s prepared foods. Fresh tofu from JP’s 21st Century Foods, bread from local bakers in Boston and Cambridge, and fresh produce are what bring customers back again and again, he said.

“That’s one-third of our business right there,” Ward said.

Between its farm stand and wholesale operations, Allandale rarely has produce to sell to City Feed, Ward said. “The best thing we can do to support them is buy their bumper items,” Ward said. “A couple of times a year John calls us up and says, ‘Our chickens are laying eggs like crazy.’ Last year they had just the right rain followed by just the right sun and they ended up with something like 1,200 pounds of melons.”

City Feed sold 600 Allandale melons for a dollar a piece, Ward said.

 

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