Fresh from the Garden

- August 14, 2011

"Restaurant gardens seem to be a growing trend..."

As the harvest season approaches, we celebrate the restaurateurs of Santa Fe who have cultivated restaurant gardens, growing greens, herbs and other edible plants, fruits and vegetables that are featured in dishes on their menus.

I live down the road from Real Food Nation, and have been watching the restaurant's organic garden flourish since the doors opened in the spring of 2009. In high summer, I love seeing the colorful sunflowers, wildflowers and other blooming plants in the front garden, and the rows of carefully tended greens and vegetables thriving in the New Mexico sun in the one-acre plot nearby.

The restaurant grows zucchini in an array of shapes, colors and sizes, along with baby squash, cucumbers, radicchio, arugula, kale, chard, eggplants, carrots and French Icicle radishes, all of which end up in delicious meals including salads, sandwiches, soups and other delicious items.

While it's more expensive for restaurant owners to grow their own food than to purchase it from suppliers, the benefits outweigh the costs. "It's the right thing to do on several different levels," says Andrew MacLauchlan, chef and co-owner of Real Food Nation.

"Food that's grown thousands of miles away and trucked here pollutes the environment through carbon entering the atmosphere. That's one of the biggest reasons for being a proponent of locally grown food. It has less of an impact on the planet. Also, there's the sheer freshness of the product. It goes from steps outside our door and it's washed and put right in the walk-in. It's so fresh, it really makes a difference. We harvest every morning for lettuce and greens that we use throughout the day and the evening."

To offset the costs of running a restaurant garden, MacLauchlan and his wife, co-owner Blyth Timken, have hired two farmers to tend the garden. "We're purchasing the produce from them and I think it's working out better," he says. "They get their rewards for as much good stuff as they can bring in and we don't have to pay an hourly wage."

The gardens at Real Food Nation also supply an endless source of visual stimulation. "The other big part of the garden is the beauty," MacLauchlan says. "The aesthetic of it is just incredible to me. It's so beautiful to see the bounty as you're walking into the restaurant. It looks so beautiful. It makes more sense growing your own."

Erin Wade, the owner of Vinaigrette, also grows food for her restaurant. During peak season, 70 percent of the produce used at Vinaigrette comes from her 10-acre farm, Las Portales, in Nambe Valley, located 20 minutes north of Santa Fe. The farm produces lettuce, kale, cabbage, arugula and more, which end up in Vinaigrette's popular salads such as Cherry Tart, made with dried cherries, arugula, feta and toasted pecans and tossed in a Champagne vinaigrette.

Erin also has a 1,200 square-foot greenhouse for growing micro-greens and herbs during the cold months and tomatoes and hothouse crops during the warm months. Chickens that roam the farm keep the pests at bay and lay the eggs used at the restaurant. The excess food from Vinaigrette is returned to the farm and fed to the pigs or tossed into the compost.

Restaurant gardens seem to be a growing trend, and as we become increasingly aware of the benefits of eating local, sustainably-grown food, more and more diners are drawn to the eateries that serve it. It's not only better for us, it's better for the planet!