EUGENE, Ore. — Of all the food eaten in Lane County, only 5 percent is produced locally. But for every 1 percent increase, about $11 million stays in our economy.
Imagine if our community boosted that to 20 percent; that could keep $165 million in Lane County. All we’d have to do is spend $30 out of our monthly food budget on local items.
One way to do that is by supporting restaurants that use local incredients, like the No. 8 eatery on our list of the Top 9 locally sourced restaurants: Belly.
Its cooler is a local farmer’s dream; it’s stocked with local greens, local eggplant, local carrots and much more.
“There’s so much, right? Because it’s the Willamette Valley,” said Belly owner Brendan Mehaney. “So you really get a plethora of ingredients throughout the year.”
Those ingredients are never more abundant than at the end of summer.
” This is eggplant season, pepper season and tomato season,” Mehaney said. “But we also know that in a month from now, we’re talking about squash.”
He knows that because he’s been at this a while. Over the years, Mehaney’s developed a rapport with local farmers.
“There’s a couple who I’ve probably been making phone calls to for more than a dozen years,” he said. “There’s a handful that … we’re growing old together.”
Now Mehaney relies on those farmers’ frequent emails to let him know what he can use for his menu.
“You need to give them a little bit of lead time. This is not food that sits in a warehouse. This is food that’s to be picked, so you usually need to give them 24 or 36 hours. Then they send their people to the fields, harvest and that day or — at the latest — the next day, come to your restaurant,” Mehaney explained.
The task of finding local ingredients year-round isn’t easy, but there’s a definite payoff, according to Mehaney: “In the end, we the cooks benefit and so do the customers. We’re all benefiting from the hard work the farmers do in this community.”