For Conor McCann to get fresh ingredients for his Piggy Pat’s B-BQ menu items, he doesn’t have to look far.
A lot of the ingredients used in Piggy Pat’s recipes are a stone’s throw away: pork from Rodman in Jefferson County, cheeses from Newport, beef from Little Falls.
McCann, the New Hartford restaurant’s manager, estimates about 50 percent of the product sold comes from somewhere in the state.
Using local products is something the restaurant takes pride in, having started the practice about a year and a half ago. Getting the word out about that fact to their customers, however, is a little harder, he said.
“Marketing costs a lot, and you have to get that and buying the product into the budget,” he said.
“It adds up.” A bill making the rounds in the state Senate might alleviate that extra cost, while promoting local agriculture and foods at the same time.
The “Dine: Pride of New York” bill, encouraging restaurants to promote and use local products in their dishes, passed a vote by the Senate’s Agriculture Committee in mid-February and will go next to the Finance Committee.
If the bill is approved and made into state law within the year, it would take effect Jan. 1.
Membership in the program would be qualified by the number of ingredients grown and/or processed within the state. Restaurants that utilize at least 15 percent of local products would qualify for state designed logos and promotional materials touting the fact that they’ve gone local.
The bill is an extension of “Pride of New York,” which already promotes statewide agriculture and is more specific to the restaurants using those farmers’ products.
“Our thought behind this bill is to really help market those efforts and promote those efforts,” said state Sen.
David Valesky D-Oneida, the bill’s sponsor.
He said the materials range from stickers to go in restaurant front windows to a spot on a “Dine: Pride of New York” designated website. Restaurants also would specify from which farms its edible components come.
Valesky, McCann and others in the industry believe eateries and the sources of their ingredients – the farms – would benefit from the bill, but not without some difficulties.
Agriculture is the biggest industry in Upstate New York, and is the No. 1 economic generator for this part of the state, said Steve Ammerman, manager of public affairs for the New York Farm Bureau.
A bill like this would do nothing but good, he said.
“It seems like one of those no-brainer bills,” he said.
But finding the proper amount of the local products at the right price is a bit of a fishing expedition.
McCann said his restaurant would like to use more free-range local chickens – it used about 100,000 birds last year – but he said not a lot of local suppliers carry product on that scale.
Szarek Greenhouses in Westmoreland sells its hydroponic lettuce to Utica restaurant The Tailor and The Cook, which touts using local products on its website.
The farm’s co-owner Bernie Szarek said he would like to expand and sell to more restaurants, but the cost to farm the vegetables would break his bank.
“We’d be happy to do it, but it’s a matter of economics,” he said.
“It’s hard to feed a family today, but we have to sell a good product to stay in business, so it might cost a smidgen more.”
Logistics and cost of restaurants going local and using at least 15 percent of state-made products could make qualifying for the bill’s advantages a little tougher, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a food-industry consulting and research firm.
An uptick in fiscal traffic caused by local hungry customers would help spur the bill’s efforts. Eating locally makes customers feel good because they feel like they are supporting their neighborhood businesses, as well as reducing their carbon footprint, he said.
“They have an emotional connection to brands,” Tristano said.
“It’s meaningful to them.”