Fortunately, people who care deeply about our global food system intuitively know that understanding their source of ingredients is crucial—whether that’s for their restaurant, hotel, home or somewhere else. This understanding can be so intuitive, in fact, that this group may not really focus on why quality food suppliers are so important.

To help discern the “why” of it all, we’ve listed three key reasons that really matter to us at the Culinary Vegetable Institute and The Chef’s Garden—and, we believe, to our chefs, guests, and friends:

  • quality control and food safety
  • satisfied customers and diners
  • shared values

Now, here’s more about each and how they can be put into action.

Reason #1: Quality Control and Food Safety

“Transparency is no longer a ‘nice to have’ quality for food companies—it really is mandatory in the eyes of the consumer . . . Building a culture of transparency focused on safety and quality is critical for food companies.” (FoodQualityAndSafety.com)

This quote sums up reason number one quite nicely. When you don’t know where your ingredients come from, you can’t possibly know what food safety procedures were used; how sustainably the produce was grown and the cattle raised, as just two examples; or how the ingredients you’re using were shipped across the entire food supplier chain.

You just don’t know.

When you do have clarity around your source of ingredients, though, you can confidently choose from food suppliers who provide quality ingredients at the level of food safety that your high standards require.

When lengthy food supplier chains exist for ingredients, all gets even more challenging. Farmer Lee Jones points out how some vendors get around that by stating that a particular ingredient is from a local purveyor–and, in one case, for example, the reality was that:

  • the haricot verts were actually grown in Guatemala
  • the cherry tomatoes were from New Zealand
  • the fruit was from somewhere else entirely

Try tracing the more complex food supplier chains with any degree of confidence! How were ingredients grown and how stellar were their food safety procedures?

In many cases, you simply don’t know.

As the FoodQualityAndSafety.com article points out, a commitment to ingredient transparency is a crucial step one, one that we wholeheartedly applaud—but then, additional, more complex steps also need to be taken. Here’s how the article describes what may be being discussed behind the scenes.

“The procurement department gets that memo and they say, ‘We’re going to start sharing a lot more information about where we get this product. But do we know how those vendors get their products? How far back do we have to go?’ Someone in corporate social responsibility will say, ‘This is a great move and we applaud it, but have we established what we’re going to talk about and what our values are?’ The first thing you have to focus on is getting internal alignment and making sure you’ve got buy-in from the entire organization. Then put together a process that allows you to say, ‘Here are our values. Here’s our commitment to transparency. Here’s the information we’re going to be willing to share.’”

At the heart of transparency, it’s all about quality communication in each of these areas with your food suppliers. And, here’s a major red flag: when you have a supplier who just isn’t willing to talk about these issues with you.

Now, here’s an example of what goes on at The Chef’s Garden in these areas.

What Food Quality and Food Safety Look Like

Because the Culinary Vegetable Institute is part of The Chef’s Garden, we’ll use the farm to share what the sourcing of quality ingredients from them looks like.

The entire farm team puts an extreme focus on providing superior products to chefs and home cooks, with the farm team working diligently to provide customers with a dizzying array of products that were grown sustainably and are the most flavorful and nutritionally dense microgreens, heirloom vegetables, edible flowers and herbs in the world.

Chef's Garden Vegetables

Plus, the agricultural food chain is transparent and easily traceable. When a customer orders a product—say beets or spinach, lettuce or edible flowers—the farm team then hand-harvests exactly what you need, picking to order and then shipping overnight to ensure the freshest, most vibrant and flavorful produce available.

This is The Chef’s Garden’s efficiently shipped Earth to Table® promise that ensures ultimate freshness, incredible flavor and prolonged shelf-life, resulting in less waste for your business.

Farmer Lee Jones and the rest of the team actually encourage potential customers to compare the process of directly sourcing ingredients from The Chef’s Garden to those with a local supplier who is potentially fulfilling your order with products sourced elsewhere and stored for days in a warehouse before they are delivered to your door. That’s because the farm team is confident that products from the farm—including fresh vegetables, microgreens, herbs and edible flowers—are the freshest and most flavorful anywhere.

Then there’s food safety—and the farm takes great pride in the cutting-edge food safety program they’ve developed that diligently tracks products from seed to shipping, ensuring that, when products from The Chef’s Garden arrive in your kitchen, you can be confident in knowing where it was grown and that it was cleaned, packed and shipped following a rigid system of the highest safety standards. The farm continually receives superior ratings in Food Quality and Safety from AVENDRA, Primus Labs and several other independent certifiers. Here’s more information about The Chef Garden’s farm food safety program.

So, returning to our original question about why transparent ingredient sourcing is so important, part one of the answer is so you can have quality ingredients that meet stringent food safety requirements.

Now here’s more about reason number two.

Reason #2: Satisfied Customers and Diners

Although customers and diners have been increasingly asking for transparency in ingredients and the food supply chain over the past several years, a report released in 2018 by Label Insight and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) shows how this trend has gone beyond “asking” for transparency and traceability into demanding it.

In that report, summarized by FoodDive.com, a full 75 percent of participants said they’d switch brands if there was one that provided more product information than the one they’re currently using. Compare that number to just two years earlier, when only 39 percent were willing to make that switch, and you’ll see how that percentage nearly doubled in just two years’ time.

In short, the FoodDive.com article says, “Across generations and across platforms, American shoppers are insisting on having a clear view into the food that they are consuming.” And, thanks to mobile devices, they can research vendors and brands with just a few clicks on their smartphones.

Another study, this one by Natural Products Insider and summarized by FoodLogistics.com, shows that an overwhelming number of consumers—94 percent of them, in fact—are more likely to “be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency.”

Bear with us, please, for just one more study. Increasing numbers of people are also wanting fresh foods, those that are “free of antibiotics, do not contain growth hormones and are pesticide- and fertilizer-free.”

What Ingredient Transparency and Freshness Looks Like

As noted in the growing number of studies about transparent ingredient sourcing—and food supply chains and related traceability—people want high visibility into these supply chains, with increasing numbers of them also wanting fresh foods.

Squash Blossom

At The Culinary Vegetable Institute, we’re extremely fortunate to have ready access to a wide range of regeneratively farmed fresh vegetables, microgreens, fresh herbs, and edible flowers from our parent company, The Chef’s Garden. In fact, some of those crops are also grown in the CVI gardens—with the honeybees we tend providing us with delicious honey.

Yes, we’re extremely fortunate.

But, here’s the thing. All of The Chef’s Garden’s customers can have high visibility into the farm’s supply chains, and all of them receive farm-fresh produce that’s regeneratively farmed. That’s because the produce is harvested fresh and shipped directly to customers with no stops along the supply chain.

Now, here’s one more reason why it’s important to know the source of ingredients used in your dishes, menus, and home meals. If you don’t, how do you know what the vendors value? Are you okay with not knowing?

Reason #3: Shared Values

Whenever Jamie needs to source new ingredients or find a new vendor, it’s crucial to him that the company he buys from shares the same values as the Culinary Vegetable Institute and The Chef’s Garden. These include growing food in an environmentally friendly way and then operating a no-waste kitchen, and otherwise being forward-thinking about ways to feed people globally and help to heal the planet’s degraded soil, food system, and more.

And, in 2019, when we were researching the degree in which other people value the transparent sourcing of quality ingredients, we found an article by OpenTable.com that included several important points:

  • First, they share, it’s important to partner with the right food producers, which includes those that ethically produce their food and follow sustainable practices.
  • Next, it was interesting to see that, by following this procedure, one culinary professional found that 90 percent of his suppliers were part of a family-oriented business. When mulling that over, he realized how they were people “who are still caring about what they do.”
  • And, another expert quoted in that article shares that, yes, it can take some homework to choose the best food producers, but it’s worth the extra effort when you end up with suppliers that provide quality ingredients in a transparent way.

Referring back to the Food Logistics article that we quoted earlier in this post, they note something about two specific generations—and that’s how Gen Z and Millennial consumers are “more likely to buy from a company that shares the same values as them.”

What Shared Values Look Like

At each of the Roots conferences held at the CVI, like-minded people who share the same passion, commitment, and motivation to improve our debilitated food system gather together in an inspiring environment to examine ways to collectively contribute to the efforts currently underway to enhance the way we farm, cook, eat, shop, analyze data, and conduct research.

Although we have a strong vegetable focus at the farm and CVI, we also partner with meat producers and more who share our philosophies—and here’s a great example from our Roots 2018 culinary conference.

In fact, we put our values into practice in every event held on our grounds, not just at Roots. As another example, at the Fêtes des Bouchers held in October 2019, one speaker was Ron Joyce of Joyce Farms. Ron raises poultry, pigs and cattle, growing grazing materials through regenerative farming techniques.

During that presentation, he shared how, nowadays, soil at farms typically only has about one half of one percent of organic matter. Ideally, there should be four percent—or five or even six percent. Ron was told by experts that it would take 100 years to return the depleted soil he started with to that degree of health. By focusing strongly upon regenerative farming techniques, though, it took only three or four.

Culinary Vegetable Institute Events

At each and every one of our culinary events, we place an extraordinary focus on the source of ingredients, whether that’s from The Chef’s Garden or from another vendor whose values we share, and who provides quality ingredients in a safe and traceable way.

Our next big event is our Valentine’s Day dinner, available on Friday, February 14th or Saturday, February 15th, a romantic dinner at The Culinary Vegetable Institute, with live music being provided by our friends, the Firelands Trio.

Dine in an intimate setting at a cozy candle-lit table for two in front of our roaring fireplace. Enjoy a quiet conversation, while dining on a delectable menu prepared by The Culinary Vegetable Institute team.