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Gardens are a growing trend

GARDENS have been named the hottest trend in American restaurants this year as more chefs involved with the movement to eat local food decide to grow their own tomatoes, herbs and other produce.

A third of the 2,000 chefs surveyed by the US National Restaurant Association named gardens the top trend. Chris Moyer, who leads sustainability programs for the group, said it costs restaurants less to grow their own produce than to buy it elsewhere. It also gives them more control over quality, he said.

"It lets them offer things people are looking for, and a growing number of people are looking for that locally grown type of fare," Moyer said.

The Blue Water Grill in Grand Rapids, Michigan, expanded its garden from about 93-sqare-meter in 2009 to about 279-square-meter this year. It started mostly with tomatoes but has added squash, peppers, sweetcorn, herbs and strawberries. The restaurant also has 12 fruit trees, including pear and apple.

"We just thought it was a great opportunity that supported doing what we wanted to do and that was to be a local restaurant," general manager Kevin Vos said.

Larry Bertsch and his wife, Diann, are weekly guests at the Blue Water Grill. While the garden is not the main reason they frequent the restaurant, it is a nice addition, Larry Bertsch said.

"It's a benefit knowing the food you're eating is grown 20 feet from the kitchen without pesticides or artificial fertilizers," said Bertsch, 50.

The garden also makes a pleasant view from the restaurant's windows and patios.

Moyer said most restaurants start with small gardens in which they grow a few basics, such as lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and herbs. It is rare for them to grow everything they need because weather limits the growing season and big gardens take up staff time and space few restaurants can afford.

Rob Weland, chef at Poste Moderne Brasserie in Washington D.C., said his restaurant planted its first garden six years ago in an outside courtyard and it gets a little bigger each year. This year, fruit trees were added.

About 20 percent of what the restaurant uses is grown in the garden, which includes 12 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, asparagus, basil, mint, tarragon, thyme and strawberries.

Paul Lee opened the Winchester restaurant in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 18 months ago and planted a garden for it on a vacant lot nearby this summer.

"We made a commitment to do an urban garden and with the movement to grow local, to shop local, it was just a natural fit for us," said Lee.

The Winchester's 370-square-meter garden provided about 10 percent of the vegetables and herbs the restaurant used this year, Lee said.

"Everything we take out we use to create dinner specials," Lee said. "It's been overwhelmingly positive."

The Bell Book & Candle is scheduled to be opened later this year in New York City, with 60 percent of the produce it uses coming from 60 hydroponic towers on the building's rooftop. Its owner and chef, John Mooney, is growing more than 70 varieties of herbs, vegetables and fruits on the roof.

He said the move toward more restaurants growing their own produce is probably based on chefs' desires to have better control of the ingredients they use.

"I believe that when you and your staff care about your ingredients from start to finish they have a better appreciation for it," said Mooney, who also once owned a Florida restaurant that had a 48,562-square-meter garden. "It has a very positive effect on the guest experience as well."


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