Check a smattering of restaurant menus and websites, and chances are you’ll see the buzz phrase “farm to table.”
Restaurants use those words to convey how close they are — in proximity and relationship — to the men and women who produce the food the chef prepares.
But in a few cases in Minnesota, restaurateurs are becoming the farmers — or the other way around — in an effort to bring consumers what they want: Fresh food they can feel good about eating.
“Our customers are really aware of what they’re eating and drinking,” said Brad Nelson, spokesman for Fitger’s Brewhouse in Duluth. “That’s why they drink craft beer.”
In that spirit, Fitger’s recently bought six Scottish Highland steers to raise on a farm just outside town. The meat from the cattle eventually will end up on plates at the famous brewpub.
And at Wise Acre Eatery in South Minneapolis, nearly every morsel served comes from the owners’ farm in Plato, Minn. They’re raising heritage chickens, pigs, cows and a staggering variety of vegetables.
“We just changed to the winter menu, and we have dishes that are 95 percent from our farm,” said Wise Acre chef Beth Fisher. “I’m super proud of that.”
For years, Fitger’s had been giving its spent grain to local farmers to use as cattle feed.
Lots of breweries do that, because after brewing takes the sugar out of the grain, it’s a nutritious and inexpensive feed for cattle.
“We had the nutrition in our grain measured by a bovine nutritionist,” said Fitger’s co-owner Tim Nelson. “The guy said he wished he had the grain for his own dairy cows.”
Eventually, Nelson and his partner and facilities manager, Rob Strom, started talking about raising their own meat.
Strom lives on family land just outside Duluth and had 80 acres and a barn.
Last fall, the men took the plunge and bought six steers. They settled on raising Scottish Highland, shaggy cattle with long, distinctive horns.
Besides their good looks, the steers have another advantage: They were originally bred in Scandinavia and can survive the harsh Duluth winter.
“We didn’t need to build an extra building,” Strom said. “Put them in a treeline, and they’re fine.”
Fitger’s recently bought its own farm near Beaver Bay, Minn. Eventually, the partners will raise cattle that will eat grass and the brewery’s spent grain in both locations. They don’t expect to replace all the beef on the menu with Scottish Highland morsels, but at least they’ll be recycling most of their grain.