EUGENE, Ore. — Monday is prep day at Party Cart, a food cart tucked into a parking lot near the intersection of 28th and Friendly. For Tiffany Norton and Mark Kosmicki, that doesn’t mean just snapping peas or breaking up broccoli; Party Cart prep means figuring out a new menu every week.
“It can be a challenge, but it’s also exciting because you’re not coming in and prepping the same things every day and cooking the same things every day,” said Norton. “It’s sort of more fun.”
The couple changes the menu at their cart based on what comes into season locally.
“Right now, I’m really excited about heirloom tomatoes coming up. In the spring, we get excited about artichokes and peas,” Norton said. “We get excited about everything.”
Nearly 100 percent of the products used at Party Cart come from a Lane County or Oregon farm, right down to the olive oil.
“We get a couple things from Northern California, such as apple cider vinegar, and we use baking powder and baking soda. We buy them locally from local businesses, but you can’t make them locally,” she said.
Sourcing almost entirely local is something that sets Party Cart apart from Eugene’s other restaurants.
“Party Cart is operating on a really different scale,” said Lynne Fessenden, director of the Willamette Food and Farm Coalition. “They’re small, so they’re doing their shopping. A lot of the restaurants are relying on a distributor.”
That’s why, Fessenden said, a lot of restaurants in town offer limited local produce: “We don’t like to judge. If all they’re buying is salad greens, that’s great! That’s a great start.”
Lane County has a long way to go when it comes to eating locally.
“It’s estimated that less than 5 percent of all the food Lane County eats is grown here,” Fessenden said. “If we could bump that up to 20 percent, the economic impact on our local economy would be huge. Every percentage point is the equivalent of $11.7 million staying in our economy.”
To get to 20 percent, the coalition calculated each household would have to spend about $30 a week on local products.
“It’s not $30 more. It just means taking $30 of your grocery money,” explained Fessenden. “Can you spend $30 of it at a farmer’s market or on local products in a grocery store?”
At the Kiva, it’s easy to spot which products are local; each one has a special tag indicating whether it’s Lane County or Oregon local and which farm it came from.
“What we have that is local depends on the season locally,” said the Kiva’s Elizabeth Reilly. “But this time of year, there are a lot of options available to us. We certainly make that a priority.”
The store stocks its produce aisle with broccoli and cilantro from Junction City, fennel from Albany, lettuce from Veneta, just to name a few locally sourced items.
“We really get to know those food producers and food growers,” Reilly said. “We know them individually, we know them as people and we get to know their stories.”
One of those food producers is Walter Bernard, the owner of Ruby and Amber’s Organic Oasis in Dorena.
“Our customers really want to have local products and buy things that they know where they’re grown,” he said. “You have greater demand for local products, you create one farm job. There’s a multiplier effect. Somewhere between .67 and .95 percent of another job is created if you create a farm job. So if you localize your food system and have more local product go through the area, we create not just one additional farm job, but other jobs.”
Fessenden pointed out, those jobs don’t necessarily stay on the farm: “Everyone who services their tractors and helps distribute their food.”
That includes restauranteurs like Norton and Kosmicki.
“I like knowing whom I’m supporting. I like knowing where the things we get come from. I think that’s pretty cool,” Norton said. “We to try to — in some ways — teach people without really teaching people.”