Q&A with Emily Rankin of Local Roots
Tell us about how you got started? What’s your story?
We are a farm to restaurant distribution company that creates connection and access to Florida’s finest ingredients. We are chef-driven, in turn we work with growers that focus on flavor and beauty when they are producing their specialty vegetables and other rare and unique products. Healthy people and a healthy environment were huge motivators to starting this company, so we are always transparent about growing practices and working to find the cleanest food available.
After working in the restaurant business most of my life I knew many of the Central Florida chefs, so I bought a box truck and started driving it from North of Gainesville down to Homestead every week meeting every chef and farmer I could. As farmers gained trust with me they started planting the items the chefs were requesting and the business started to work.
Why and how did you get into the business?
About 8 years ago I started the Audubon Park Community Market in the neighborhood I grew up in Orlando. During that time, I developed a strong connection with lots of local farmers. After growing up in the fine-dining restaurant business and working in the industry my entire life, I took an executive chef position out west with a focus on farm-to-table cuisine. During that time, I had built a relationship with a company much like Local Roots. When I returned to Florida many farmers were contacting me, hoping for me to help them get their products to market. So I decided to replicate what I had seen working for me and created Local Roots.
What was your ‘aha’ moment?
Honestly, local, clean food always made sense to me. My mom made my baby food and raised us on very clean food. By the time I was 18 years old, I had a huge organic vegetable garden. And by the time I was 21, I was working at some of the best restaurants in town, however they were starting to get their soups sent to them in plastic bags and hiring consultants that said things like “restaurants don’t need chefs.” Everything about that felt very wrong to me and I have not stopped working to correct that since. Fifteen years later, the location where that consultant made that claim has a new name, new owners, a real chef and beautiful local ingredients showcased throughout the menu. It is working!
How does Local Roots work exactly?
Every Thursday our weekly list comes out that we send to restaurants. Everything that is in season that week is on that list. Chef’s orders are due each Sunday by 5:00pm. We process all orders that evening and by Monday, our farmers are harvesting. Monday we run our trucks all over the state picking up directly from farms. In the middle of the night product is exchanged from North to South Florida. Then we start delivering first thing Tuesday. All the food is harvested directly for our chef’s. It is as fresh as you can get short of growing it yourself.
We spend a lot of time with chefs getting guidance on what they are looking to use for their restaurants and then we use that to develop education programs to teach our farmers how and what to grow for the market. To that point, we co-created the Florida Local Food Summit, which is the statewide organic farmer conference. Every year we invite chefs to the summit, so the farmers can hear first hand what types of products they will purchase.
Tell us about your challenges….
Well, price point, getting chefs to pay a little more for ingredients, and then getting them to explore and try new ingredients. In the end, it’s the consumer who can drive the change because only they can decide if they will pay a little more for great ingredients. I still spend most of my time trying to create more amazing local food so we have the supply to meet the demand.
As you can imagine the schedule is very tight, so if one thing goes wrong it can through off everything. Plus, Florida has very challenging weather, especially this year, with the fruit fly quarantine and flooding from all the rain.
And, your opportunities?
We have a lot of very creative chefs right now focused on ingredient-driven food, it is really refreshing! On the same note, there are more farmers for sure than we’ve ever seen before growing the unique crops for these chefs. The consumer is understanding the words “local” and “organic” now in ways they never had been before.
We are focused on increasing of our selection of locally grown foods with our artisan food hub and research farm. At the Local Roots Artisan Food Hub Chef Matt Hinckley formally of Boxpark, Harry’s Pizza and Michael’s Genuine is launching is craft local meat company Hinckley’s Fancy Meats. Local Roots will also increase their selection of beef and pork cuts once the facility passes the USDA inspection. Chef Kilgore from Alter has been helping us plan crops at our new farm and we are having a ton of fun exploring what can be grown in Florida. And soon the chefs be able to order online!
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