Farmers have a limited window to sell the food they pick each day.
Consumers don’t always have time to visit the farmer’s market and then prepare that fresh food at home.
Fly Away Farm Foods strives to bridge the gap between shoppers and farmers.
The new Orange Beach restaurant bases its menu on what Baldwin County farmers have available that week in their fields, bringing predictability to smaller, family-owned farms and healthy produce to diners.
“When we started putting together a data base of farms eight months ago I was astounded by how much produce was coming out of this county,” said Jill Stanley, operations manager. “We connected with those farmers and connect with more and more every day.”
While the restaurant’s fruit and vegetables are all Baldwin County grown, chicken and beef is not currently available within county limits and is purchased from family farms in other Alabama counties. Products the staff cannot find in Alabama are sourced as closely as possible. The rice they serve, for example, is grown in Louisiana.
In the kitchen dishes are never fried. Instead the staff preserves nutrients by using steamers and ovens. The result is fresher, healthier food.
“I think social media plays into fears about fresh food and make people think that farm-grown food is somehow not safe but then they go and eat processed food or fast food,” Stanley said. “Our locally grown foods are some of the best you can eat.”
She added that the key is working with and understanding the farmers’ perspectives. It is easy for food distributors to drop off large trucks of produce and even pre-made salads and appetizers to multiple restaurants. Smaller farmers are up before dawn picking produce and have to distribute and sell everything they harvest in the same day.
When they are turned away by restaurants that have received a shipment from a distributor, it leaves them with a loss.
“There wasn’t a lot of predictability from the farmer’s perspective. Couple that with the shrinking farm business in Baldwin County and it means we need to protect our local harvest by creating market demands,” Stanley said. “What we saw was a lot of is farmers going home with stuff they can’t sell. That explodes and inflates their cost. Anyone in the restaurant business should first and foremost know how the farm business works. I think that has been missing because the sourcing of food has become too convenient.
“We have a desire to create a market that is reliable, predictable and works with farms to make seasonal dishes,” she said.
Fly Away Farm Foods also picks up much of each produce each day from the farms and takes on some of the labor cost of processing the raw produce. The menu changes each week and sometimes, each day, depending on what the farms have brought in from the field that morning.
During the opening week the kitchen featured blueberry chicken, with fresh berries from Weeks Bay Plantation, shrimp and blue corn grits, the seafood supplied by Bon Secour fishermen and the grits from Bayou Cora farms as well as silver king corn from McKenzie Farm Market and pink eye peas and eggplant from Bee Natural Farm.
Stanley said the restaurant doesn’t strive to be a fine dining location but rather great food coming from great local farms.
“We’re essentially like getting fast food from the farmer’s market. Healthy, quick and good for farmers too,” she said.