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Chef Creates New Farm-to-Restaurant Distribution Model

Modeled after popular Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, in which consumers buy shares of local farmers’ harvests in advance and get weekly deliveries during the growing season, RSA transfers the concept to restaurants. Swanson acts as the go-between, placing orders, contracting with farmers, handling administration and overseeing distribution on behalf of the operators, which include a variety of casually upscale, fine dining, retail deli and corporate foodservice accounts in Milwaukee.

In a recent Chicago Tribune article, Swanson said it’s a system in which everyone interested in promoting and consuming locally produced foods wins. By supplying restaurants, farmers are able to sell thousands of pounds of food at once instead of a couple pounds at a time to individual families, as in CSA programs. The farmers also receive part of the money upfront, which means they don't have to borrow to buy seed or pay for labor. And with their costs reduced, farmers are willing to give the restaurants price breaks.

David Kozlowski, 53, of Pinehold Gardens, a 20-acre farm just south of Milwaukee, said in the report that tales of late payments and contracts not honored at harvest have made many small farmers reluctant to deal with restaurants.  But Braise RSA eliminates the risk because Swanson negotiates with restaurants, places the orders with farms and ensures payment, Kozlowski said.

It's an arrangement that's allowed Milwaukee's La Merenda tapas bar to offer locally sourced dishes, such as its sautéed rainbow trout with leeks and potatoes, said chef and owner Peter Sandroni, 37, in the Tribune’s report. The RSA supplies the leeks and potatoes, and Swanson introduced Sandroni to Rushing Waters Fisheries in Palmyra, which delivers its trout to the restaurant the day they are harvested.

Swanson, 39, came up with the idea for Braise RSA while working as a chef in Milwaukee and Chicago for 20 years. He started it last summer with a $25,000 state grant that paid for construction of a root cellar and the purchase of other supplies.

Now about 20 farms supply everything from beets and carrots to black currants. He hopes to add cheese, poultry, eggs and meat down the road, as well as cranberries, wild rice, maple syrup and other Wisconsin foods.

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