I'd like to give a shout-out to Fresh Fork Market, a local business embodying a great idea. They're essentially distributors, acting as go-betweens to connect small local food growers with restaurants that are in search of the freshest ingredients.
There are several benefits to this arrangement. First, and most personal for me as a foodie, fresher vegetables taste better. One reason is that the varietals we're sold in supermarkets have been bred for durability in shipping, not for taste or nutrition. If you've ever tasted a tomato that you personally brushed the dirt off of, then you know that today's reddish softballs are literally a pale imitation of the real thing. Are you going to make tortilla soup with that?
I had a garden at my last house. I tried growing all kinds of stuff with varying degrees of success. The tomatoes went crazy:The brussels sprouts never got bigger than my thumbnail and the green beans didn't bear much. But the jalapeno plants groaned with fruit; the broccoli tasted like the very definition of broccoli. A neighbor became so smitten with our cucumbers that he took home bushels of them and ate salads all summer. But I digress.
Second, buying locally keeps your money in the northeast ohio economy. Fresh Fork will tell you that NEO spends a staggering amount of money on food that comes from other places. The region earns all it can by offering manufacturing, engineering, and other goods and services to other regions; let's keep expenses down by not mail-ordering food.
Third, it's a very effective way to reduce your carbon footprint. Getting your celery from Chile burns an awful lot of dinosaur juice. You can do your part against global warming, and make the region less dependent on transportation, by buying locally.
Fourth, you'll taste things you didn't know existed. I was introduced to Fresh Fork at an event at Molinari's (excellent restaurant, with wine only $5 over retail). They served us ground cherries, which taste exotic and unearthly and brilliant, and come in a neat little puffy wrapper. There are heritage pears, berries, and all kinds of stuff here that will shake up your taste buds.
Fifth, resist acricultural monocultures. This region might be a great place to grow corn, but covering Ohio with a single strain of it carries a multitude of dangers. The economy is vulnerable to damage if a disease hits that strain. It flogs the soil relentlessly by depleting it of the same nutrients again and again. Lots of other things grow well here, albeit not perfectly. Eat them!
My contact at Fresh Fork is Bob Gavlak. His email is bob at freshforkmarket dot com. Spread the word!