Chicago Food Trucks: Who’s Locally sourcing?

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August 18, 2015 at 10:06 pm

Fish tacos from Real Food Street Bistro in Bend, Ore.

Fish tacos from Real Food Street Bistro in Bend, Ore.

Locally-sourced food is utilized by some Chicago-area restaurants – but how (if at all) is it being used in our city’s popular food truck scene?

While vacationing in Bend, Ore., I went to a small grouping of food trucks in a residential area near where I was staying. I had delicious fish tacos from Real Food Street Bistro made with local cod, feta cheese, pickled vegetables and chipotle-avocado aioli. While our proximity to fresh fish is fairly limited in Chicago, farm-fresh meat and produce are both quite close. So who’s doing it here?

BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS

The Eastman Egg Company, which runs a food truck but also has a location in the Loop, sources its meat and eggs via weekly deliveries from Slagel Family Farm in Fairbury, Ill.

“We’re promoting local farms and promoting the community we serve,” said Drew Davis, The Eastman Egg Company. “A lot of it is flavor – we’re small so we can’t ship things from California, ect. But it was also important to be part of a community.”

It doesn’t stop there – the restaurant also sources its bread from La Farine Bakery in Logan Square and its coffee from Sparrow Coffee in the West Loop. The collaboration keeps with the restaurant’s mission of community while delivering a high-quality breakfast to customers.

“Rather than talk about our product specifically, we want to talk about it generally – we want to give customers the best morning they’ve ever had. And we want them to share in that product.”

DOUGHNUTS TOO

Meat and veggies aren’t the only foods available in our neck of the woods. The availability of local fruit and honey has been a plus for two Chicago doughnut trucks I talked to.

Gabriel Wiesen of Beavers Donuts said most of their ingredients are nationally-sourced – due to the fact they make all of their batter and toppings from scratch – but in the fall, they source apple products from a Michigan farm.

“During the fall, our candy apples and cold apple cider come from a farm in Michigan. We get our apples and apple cider from Yates Cider Mill in Rochester Hills. We started working with them because I grew up going to the farm and drinking their apple cider (and eating their doughnuts) whenever visiting my grandparents in Michigan. I love the place and their products!” Wiesen said.

Jonathan of Firecakes Donuts says they also locally source fruit for their doughnuts, with blueberries from Klug Farms in Michigan and honey from Kress Apiary in Indiana.

IT’S DIFFICULT… BUT DOABLE

While some trucks are championing the idea, you’re probably wondering – why doesn’t everyone do this?

1. Business size. Local sourcing has spread to restaurants faster than pop-up trucks due to business size and ability to predict demand. Although Davis says Eastman Egg is able to control its meat consumption in accordance with its weekly farm deliveries from Slagel, storage of that quantity can be for difficult for food truck-only businesses.

Mario Vela says Amanecer Breakfast Tacos uses fresh and organic ingredients, but storage issues prohibit them from sourcing locally.

“Being a small startup that cooks in a kitchen co-op, we are very limited on storage space. We must find options that are readily available so that we can pick up smaller quantities of ingredients as needed,” Vela said.

2. Chicago’s winters. Access to local produce via gardens and farmers markets is easy in the city’s warmer months, but limited in its long winters.

“When in season we have our produce vendors supply us with local produce, we also pop by farmers markets and local community gardens, even if it’s only available for one day,” said Shawn of DönerMen. “It’s pretty easy in season because most restaurants are trying to keep as local as possible, so the groundwork has already been laid. The problem is winter when you don’t have a choice.”

That being said – our culture is (finally) beginning to put preference on what goes into our food, how it’s made as well as what it tastes like; food is an enjoyable artform compared with the fast convenience it was 50 years ago.

Can we link these modern preferences with the well-being of ourselves, our communities and our planet?

“There’s an objective reality that it’s harder to source locally, but it’s not impossible,” Davis said. “It comes down to a person’s appetite – if you believe in it and believe it makes your product better, you can do it.”

Rosie Powers
Rosie spent part of her collegiate reporting years as an environmental reporter covering coal ash disposal as well as clean energy – or lack thereof – at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She also formerly served as the editor of Green Bean Chicago, a blog that showcased sustainable and LEED-certified buildings throughout the Chicago area. Most recently she volunteered with P.E.R.R.O. – an environmental justice organization in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood – on a project promoting soil remediation at a residential site filled with heavy metals. She enjoys cooking with locally-sourced meat from a CSA meat share and herbs from her patio – although her boyfriend is the garden wizard. Rosie hopes to use her powers (ha!) to communicate the importance of keeping our people, our cities and our planet healthy and sustainably-conscious for years to come. A journalist by day, she currently works as a digital producer for a local TV station.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Jill Bonner says:

    Great article, Rosie!! So good to hear that Chicago Food Trucks are focusing more on local sourcing. So cool that they use Yates Cider. We live close in Michigan and love that place!!

    • Hey Rosie,

      Definitely disappointed not to see our truck, The Corner Farmacy, included in your article. Everything from our bread, bacon, eggs, cheese, all produce, coffee and virtually everything else is locally sourced. We would love to feed you sometime, come introduce yourself!

      Emily

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