MONTROSE – Brendan Lore is more than the owner Pahgre’s Restaurant. He’s also at the forefront of the “buy local, eat local” movement that’s been growing in Montrose.
The movement started a few years ago when Kathy DelTonto, head of food services for the Montrose School District, outlawed junk foods like ‘tater tots in school lunchrooms, brought in local produce, and started serving homemade bread and meals made from scratch.
Mike Krull, manager of the restaurant at Montrose Memorial Hospital, also jumped on the bandwagon with fresh local produce that makes his meals sought after by townsfolk, a far cry from what we typically think of as cafeteria food.
Along with many others from business, education and particularly local producers, they formed the Valley Food Partnership, a nonprofit that will operate as a component fund under the auspices of the Montrose Community Foundation.
The partnership is still in its infancy, just a few months old, Lore said, but those involved have one major goal, to raise awareness of the benefits of eating locally produced food.
“We want to bring awareness to local food and local farmers, to food at the source,” Lore said. “It is ultra fresh, and I try to buy as much locally as possible.”
A special event, the Farm Dinner in Montrose, will be a fundraiser for the Valley Food Partnership, Lore said, to be held Monday, June 18 at Straw Hat Farm at a cost of $75 per person. Call 249-6442 for details and reservations.
Although the menu hasn’t been announced, the price will be well worth it, Lore said, since the chefs are Donn Wagner and Peter O’Brien of Simmer Food and Wine. Guests will also receive a tour of the farm.
“The farm dinner is a way to get people to experience local farms,” Lore said. “First we’ll have a tour and go through the hoop houses. A lot of people miss the link between their food and its source and we want to get people interested in local food.”
Straw Hat Farm, according to its website at strawhatfarm.com, sells many varieties of vegetables, but specializes in organic, gourmet garlic. The farm also has 300 laying hens and sells farm-fresh eggs. About five years ago, the family-owned farm added a state-licensed kitchen and now offer baked breads, pies, granola and more, all using organic flours and grains. The farm has its own stone-burr mill and uses all freshly ground wheat, and the kitchen also offers dog biscuits, created as a project by the children in the family.
If parents understand more about where food comes from and pass that understanding on to their kids, everybody would have better eating habits and would also help the local economy, Lore said. The movement is growing here, and DelTonto, for example, bought 5,000 pounds of locally grown tomatoes last year, Lore said.
“Mike Krull at the hospital buys two or three hogs locally and bought 800 pounds of Mirai sweet corn last year,” he said. “Mike is not only a heck of a chef but he’s very local oriented.”
Krull and DelTonto are both involved in the new nonprofit, he said, and Carol Parker, a retired farmer and rancher, is doing much of the heavy lifting in assembling steering committees to get the group going.
Parker also applied for a planning grant through the Colorado Health Foundation to develop baseline information on local needs and wants, Lore said.
“Our overall goal is to consume more local food, and many of those involved are connected with national associations,” he said. “The amount of talent in the valley for exactly this cause is enormous.”
A native of Wyoming, Lore has been in this area for eight years is obviously proud that his restaurant, which just celebrated its third year anniversary, opened in a down market but is doing well. He said he had no prior restaurant experience, except for the six years he worked as a pizza deliveryman.
But he had the desire and the educational background, he said, and business is good, especially during the summer months.
“I wanted to be in the restaurant business and I have degrees in economics and finance,” he said. “I love to crunch numbers.”
But it’s healthy food as well as a healthy bottom line that appeals to Lore, and for him, good food is fresh food.
“There are a lot of reasons to consider local food, like the carbon footprint and food miles,” he said. “Some people would like to see more viable farms instead of more subdivisions, and keep it in the local economy. It is better and tastes better, and it’s not exposed to ripen under ethylene gas.”
Lore said that Pahgre’s, which specializes in pizza, paninis, fresh salad and pasta dishes, uses fresh ingredients as much as possible, and that he gets a lot from the Montrose Farmers Market.
Word about using local products has spread, he said, and farmers often come to the restaurant with their offerings or stop by after the Farmers Market to sell what they have left.
“I knew I would do local food before I opened,” lore said. “I come from an agricultural background and understand the struggle local farms go through on a daily basis.”