Mar 16, 2020
Rafns' restaurant: Chew on That

You don’t need to cook from home to enjoy the bounty of seasonal and local food. Restaurants like Rafns’ in Salem, Oregon, are embracing the benefits of local food that support the community, the earth, and customers.

Rafns’ began as an invitation-only supper club in 2006, allowing owners Nate and Rochelle Rafn to establish relationships with local farmers. This local focus was the foundation of their restaurant, which opened in downtown Salem in 2013. Success, to Rafns’, extends beyond the bottom line; it includes local farm support, ethical production standards, minimal waste output, and community cultivation.

Rafns’ co-owner Nate Rafn says, “We’re always striving to create less waste, use less plastic wrap, and source things from farms that we believe are as sustainable as possible.” While Rafns’ sourcing ethics are admirable, it’s the quality and taste of their food that keeps customers coming back.

Local Food = Local Success

Local food at Rafns’ is defined as food sourced from Salem and nearby towns, and it is often seasonal. Sourcing organic food locally preserves the full flavor of the food and takes advantage of the delicious variety of seasonal offerings. Choosing to eat seasonal food allows for unique and flavorful creations that support the local small farm owners who embrace regenerative agriculture practices.

Purchasing local food also keeps money in the community, which directly supports local families. In Rafns’ case, many of their suppliers have become loyal customers as well. Local food facilitates community building from both an interpersonal and an environmental standpoint.

couple buying fresh produce at outdoor market
Purchasing local produce reduces the transportation footprint of your food and helps support your neighbors.

Eating Local for the Climate

Whether at a restaurant like Rafns’ or at home, eating local significantly reduces the miles your food travels, thereby decreasing your carbon footprint. Additionally, small, local farms often forego the use of harmful pesticides, and many even seek organic certification. As a result, the soil is healthier for future land use, and the land is more biodiverse.

Composting is a common practice of small, local farms that turns organic waste into a product that nourishes the soil for overall healthier crops. Natural soil management techniques like composting allow diverse ecosystems to coexist with farms, thanks to reduced use of chemical treatments. Crop harvesting and packaging processes also tend to be less wasteful at local farms than at corporate megafarms.

Factory farms involved in livestock production are a large contributor to climate change due to the destructive practice of animal feed production, clear-cutting for grazing land, and emissions from animal waste and other processes. Small, local farms selling animal products often utilize more humane practices, do not use hormones or chemicals, and practice environmentally sound waste handling.

Incorporating Local Into Your Life

With any food item, it’s important to ask, “is it possible to source this any closer?” While it may not be possible to plant an organic garden in your yard, there are several ways to think and eat locally.

  1. Start an herb and spice garden: Herbs and spices take up little space and are very cheap and easy to maintain in most living spaces. An herb and spice garden is a great introduction to participation in the food production process.
  2. Eat seasonally: Seasonal dining is a great way to support local farms that grow crops that support the land and surrounding ecosystem services. It is also a fun way to switch up your standard menu.
  3. Find a restaurant that serves local food: Local food is all around! A quick internet search or phone call to a restaurant will reveal the values of a restaurant you visit. Usually, the food at restaurants that prioritize local and seasonal food is higher quality because it’s fresher.

Eating local food begins with a few small and simple changes, though the resulting impact is resounding. Restaurants like Rafns’ positively impact their communities through delicious culinary creations and a message that highlights the value of local food.

Rafns’ is featured in episode 1 of the Chew on That Sustainable Restaurant Series:

About the Author

Susie George is a graduate student pursuing a Sustainable MBA, and resides in Salem, Oregon. She is a co-founder and co-owner of Branching Together, a business that creates sustainable living products, and creator of Chew on That, a YouTube series dedicated to featuring different approaches to sustainability to collectively raise environmental awareness. The first five full episodes of Chew on That feature sustainable restaurants throughout Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Susie is passionate about harnessing the influence of business to create positive change.

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