When Random Lake producer Jeff Preder met Chef David Swanson and learned about Restaurant Supported Agriculture, he knew it was a great idea. With agritourism on the rise and farm-to-table popularity at an all-time high, “more farmers were wanting their products to get out to different restaurants,” says Preder. Preder’s Jeff-Leen Farm (a combination of his and his wife Kathleen’s names) produces naturally raised Piedmontese beef, pastured chickens and eggs.
Enter Swanson’s Braise RSA, which connects local farmers with urban Milwaukee-area restaurants. Braise absorbs the time and cost associated with buying directly from farmers while eliminating the guesswork and labor for participating restaurateurs who want to meet their customers’ growing demand for locally sourced food.
“There’s farmer speak and there’s chef speak, and they don’t always speak the same language. So I think of myself as a translator,” says Swanson, a four-time James Beard Award-nominated chef who coined the RSA term in 2006, based on the more consumer- oriented concept of Community Supported Agriculture. In 2008, he successfully secured a Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin grant from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and launched Braise RSA with four restaurants and 12 farms. That has now grown to 35 Milwaukee-area restaurants and 160 participating farms, translating to $800,000 in sales for producers and business owners. With a second Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin grant awarded in 2016, Swanson plans to transform the business from an LLC into a cooperative to reflect the true nature of the collaboration.
“We want the farmer’s identity to be intact,” Swanson says. “If there are eight farmers supplying us with beets, for example, every end-user restaurant, chef or caterer will know exactly what farm they’re getting their beets from.”
Preder took over the 148-year-old family farm in 1977, sold the dairy cows in 1997 and transitioned to beef and chickens shortly thereafter. Participation in the RSA program has allowed him to develop his business while focusing the bulk of his time and energy on farming – and that was Swanson’s intention.
“We want chefs to chef,” Swanson says, “and farmers to farm.”