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Costing out farm-to-table

farm dining

Question:

I’m working on costing out a menu for a campground. It’s a 450-acre property that can handle everything from low-end items for younger crowds to higher-end weddings and catered events. There will eventually be farming on the property (likely a couple acres worth) which will draw the farm-to-table crowd. What should I be presenting to the owners in regards to costing out menus?

– John McGann, Chef, Camp Tohi, Quakertown, Pa.

Answer:

Kitchen gardens and farms tied to an operation’s kitchen have become a fixture. In the best cases, this provides better product, fresher, more affordably, and more sustainably than using the larger supply chain. So, for example, if a bartender snips some mint for mojitos just before service, the final product will be better than the drink made with whatever mint is sitting in the walk-in. And since mint grows abundantly with little maintenance, it can be a no-brainer. Other products, however, may be significantly more expensive to grow yourself once you factor in the labor of the farmer, supplies, any losses due to weather, animals, or harvest/storage challenges. A small, diversified operation also brings inefficiencies that may make your cost per pound more than that of a larger grower. Those concerns do not mean you shouldn’t grow your own, but rather that you need to think of house-grown produce as a different type of cost, rather than “free” simply because there is no invoice from a vendor.

In terms of recipe costing, I recommend using market prices for house-grown produce for a few reasons:

  • There will be times of year, especially where you’re located, where your own produce will not be an option to use. Replacing your produce with a distributor’s should not disrupt your budget.
  • You need to have a consistent basis for benchmarking against your own performance throughout the year and against other operations. A lower food cost that depends on an expensive organic farm will give you an artificial picture of what’s happening.
  • Even in a single integrated operation, transferring funds from food to farm is best for accounting. You may find that this reallocated budget, along with retail produce sales or sales to other restaurants, makes the farm viable—or not.

 

More on real farm-to-table here.

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