Local Produce Site Connects Restaurants, Schools To Farms With the popularity of locally grown vegetables soaring, a new Web site hopes to make it easier for chefs to find farmers in their area — and have produce delivered to their restaurants. The idea behind FarmsReach.com is to provide one-stop shopping for fresh produce from many farms at once.

Site Helps Chefs Find Farmers, And Fresh Produce

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And now let's hear about another kind of market. Individuals can buy local produce one tomato at a time at farmers markets, but for restaurants and schools, the process is not so simple.

Beth Hoffman reports on a new Web site called FarmsReach that directly connects commercial buyers to local farms.

BETH HOFFMAN: Nettie's Crab Shack is not at all a shack. The seafood restaurant is located on San Francisco's high-end Union Street and specializes in cooking with fresh local fish and produce.

Unidentified Man #1: I'll tell you quickly about our specials today. We're doing a really beautiful prawn salad. We serve that with some really beautiful heirloom tomatoes. They're coming from Capay Farms right now.

HOFFMAN: These are not just any tomatoes. They're organic Sun Gold tomatoes, picked by hand just a short time ago in the Capay Valley of Northern California.

Mr. BRIAN LEITNER (Chef, Nettie's Crab Shack): Actually, the tomatoes really help brighten up the whole dish. They have sweetness and tartness.

HOFFMAN: Meet chef Brian Leitner. He used to spend a lot of time calling farms to get this kind of produce, or he went shopping booth by booth at the farmers market. But not anymore.

(Soundbite of typing)

Mr. LEITNER: So I'm logging into the FarmsReach.

HOFFMAN: A long list of produce from farms all around the Bay Area appears on Leitner's screen. One of them is Capay Organics, a farm Leitner started buying from through the FarmsReach Web site.

Mr. LEITNER: Abundant supply of delicious heirloom tomatoes, red Brandywines, Cherokee Purples.

HOFFMAN: Leitner clicks the boxes next to the produce he wants.

Mr. LEITNER: And then once I'm done ordering, I just click on here, just place order, and it sends it directly to the farmer and then I hope it shows up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LANA HOLMES (CEO FarmsReach): We are not attempting to make - give the opportunity for the general public, the consumer, the opportunity to buy directly from a farmer. They have that opportunity at a farmers market.

HOFFMAN: That's Lana Holmes, the CEO of FarmsReach. Instead, she says, the Web site gives institutional buyers like schools and restaurants the ability to more easily buy food directly from nearby farms. That means more local food, she says, on more plates.

Ms. HOLMES: And the farmers have the opportunity to have an extremely expanded marketplace.

HOFFMAN: Out at Capay Organics, about 90 miles away, Leitner's order arrives in the inbox of Fran Lewis, the sales manager at the farm.

Ms. FRAN LEWIS (Sales Manager, Capay Organics): So the order that came in, it says there's an order being placed by Brian at Nettie's Crab Shack. And what I would do is go into our computer system and enter this sale, and now our farm workers know that they need to harvest these items, pack these items and get them on a truck tonight, and it'll go to a restaurant the next morning.

HOFFMAN: For Lewis, before FarmsReach, even finding restaurants to order produce was tricky business.

Ms. LEWIS: I would say a year ago, every afternoon, I was calling between 10 and 20 restaurants, just blind-calling them. I would look online and sometimes I would Google, like...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEWIS: ...organically friendly restaurants. And sometimes it was really successful, but it was hit-or-miss.

HOFFMAN: Although FarmsReach has by no means replaced the cold calls yet, it is doing part of Lewis' work for her, bringing clients to Capay via the Web site. And because she spends less time sitting at her desk randomly calling restaurants, Lewis now travels out to the fields to get to know her product better.

Ms. LEWIS: Sun Gold is almost like, when they hit the peak of sugar, it's just a beautiful, deep, setting-sun orange.

HOFFMAN: Those same golden cherry tomatoes are then delivered to Nettie's Crab Shack, not 24 hours after they were picked.

Unidentified Man #2: Hi, there. How you doing? Right here or where do they go?

HOFFMAN: And not four hours later, they're served as part of the restaurant's daily special.

Unidentified Woman: Clam chowder for you.

Unidentified Man #3: Thank you.

Unidentified Woman: You're welcome.

Unidentified Man #3: Thank you very much.

Unidentified Woman: And here's the grilled prawn salad.

Unidentified Man #3: Oh, thank you.

Unidentified Woman: And then tomatoes, and a little fennel chili vinaigrette.

Unidentified Man #3: Thank you very much.

Unidentified Woman: Uh-huh.

Unidentified Man #3: Lovely. Thank you.

HOFFMAN: FarmsReach launched in the Bay Area last spring and plans to expand to seven other regions around the country.

For NPR News, I'm Beth Hoffman in San Francisco.

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