Chefs, others, tour Riverside Farms, meet growers of local food and taste their products

by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

About 250 people descended on Riverside Farms in Elk River on Tuesday for an event inspired by the local food movement.

Sponsored by US Foods, it was a chance for some of the company’s customers — primarily restaurants — to bring their staff on a “field trip” to the farm, meet growers who provide them with locally sourced produce, proteins and dairy, taste freshly prepared products and tour Riverside Farms.

Rolando Diaz, the chef and owner of Marna’s Catering in Robbinsdale, said it was exciting to get a behind-the-scenes perspective.

“We buy cases and cases of things and we just put them away in the cooler,” he said. “It’s really nice to see where it all starts.”

Anthony Kingsley, US Foods local and sustainable product lead, described US Foods as a distributor whose role is get food from the field to the restaurant. The event was a way to show that US Foods has local product available, he said. The company defines local as products from within 400 miles or within the state.

Kurt Wagaman, general manager of Superior Fresh, was one of a dozen local growers and suppliers showcasing their products and telling their stories at the event.

Superior Fresh raises Atlantic salmon and steelhead trout and produces leafy greens at its aquaponics facility south of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. It is the largest aquaponics facility in the world, Wagaman said.

He said they harness the nutrient-rich water from the fish and use it to grow more than 2 million pounds of leafy greens a year.

Forest Mushrooms in St. Joseph, Minnesota, was another supplier showcased. Kevin Doyle, a botanist and certified wild mushroom identification expert, started the business in 1985. One of his business partners at the time was Frank Galli, who later founded Pompeii Pizzeria in Elk River.

Forest Mushrooms is a grower and distributor of specialty mushrooms.

Doyle said he supplies about 15 types of cultivated and wild mushrooms to US Foods.

Riverside Farms, located at 15238 Adams St., was chosen as the site for the event because the farm has been a successful vendor for US Foods and is relatively close to the Twin Cities, Kingsley said.

Eric Nathe, of Riverside Farms, told people touring the farm that they grow sweet corn, cabbage, cucumbers, squash, peppers and other produce on about 400 acres of land.

Maude Nathe, also of Riverside Farms, said a lot of the people attending the event were chefs.

“It gives them an idea of where this produce is coming from,” she said. “You can say it’s local. Well, here you come out and you see for yourself that it really is grown right here.”

The event was part of US Foods’ larger Serve Local initiative.

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