“Going green,” “sustainability,” and “farm to table” are all terms that get tossed around more frequently lately—and that’s a good thing. Recognizing the need to change the way we live and work to help make the world a healthier, more naturally sustainable place is very important not just for the planet but for our personal lives and our businesses. Those of us who work in the food industry are very aware of where food comes from and the cost of that food and of course at Le Bernardin, we are very concerned about quality and integrity. In order to become more aware of what is happening with farming and livestock management, I visited Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley in the heart of Virginia. Joel is a visionary and even though his farming methods sound and look cutting edge, they really reflect the natural order of growth and sustainability in nature. At Polyface, Joel raises cows, chickens, pigs, rabbits and vegetables and together, they all work to make the farm completely self-sustaining and economically sound.
In nature, grazing animals eat the tastiest, most diverse diet by moving from field to field. After they eat and move on, birds then come in and eat the larvae from the manure and as they scratch up the soil, they at the same time, spread the manure around which acts as a natural fertilizer. The field is then ready to begin growing healthy, new vegetation again—it’s a natural cycle. At Polyface, they emulate nature by turning the cattle out into the green, fresh fields, allowing them to eat and live there for a couple of days and then moving them into another field where there is new vegetation. Then they move the chickens into the fields where the cows have been. The chickens eat and scratch up the soil. They are getting a varied diet as well and they are spreading around the natural fertilizer. Eating this way, as opposed to industrialized confinement farming where the animals only eat grain, the animals have a diverse diet and are healthier and avoid many of the diseases that industrially farmed animals contract. Antibiotics are not necessary at Polyface because the animals don’t get sick. Joel practices the same principles with the pigs and rabbits as well and all of the animals are living in their natural environment with fresh food, water and sunshine. They are humanely treated and are happy. The model also works well for the economics of the farm. Ecology and economy can work together.
Back in New York, at Le Bernardin, we are converting our business into an environmentally friendly workplace of business by pursuing LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. This can be done in different ways from the way a building is constructed to water and heating and cooling systems. In our case, we already have a constructed building but we can change some of our systems to fit into a sustainable model. For instance, we are switching out our dishwashing machines to models that use less water and are more efficient. We will decrease our water usage and in turn, our costs by 63%. Utilizing biodegradable paper and disposable products reduce waste and switching out our dining room light bulbs will save electricity. David Mancini, the Director of Operations at Le Bernardin, is leading the movement and researching new products and practices that will help all of us work more efficiently while reducing our impact on the environment. In the kitchen we continue to source sustainably raised products that taste delicious. Everyone wins when we keep working toward “going green.”
Back in my home kitchen I also try and work green and provide my family with sustainably raised products. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the farmers and green markets in your area as well as the grocers who source the products that they sell to you and your community. They will be able to tell you a bit about where the food comes from and how it was raised. This week I will show you a unique bouillabaisse recipe. Traditionally, bouillabaisse is a somewhat simple fish stew but this recipe not only utilizes sustainably farmed shellfish, but also a pastured chicken too! The chicken cooked with the tomato, fennel and garlic is simple and delicious while the clams, mussels and the croutons with homemade aioli make it special enough to serve to guests.
All of the steps we take to live in a more environmentally friendly way, including sourcing sustainably raised food, will be good for our own health, but also the physical and fiscal health of our world.