UKIAH, Calif. – From the salt and pepper to the burgers and beer on tap, everything is organic at Ukiah Brewing Co., the first restaurant in California to become organically certified.
Greeting customers by name from one of the pub’s rustic wooden tables, owner Els Cooperrider’s soft demeanor doesn’t betray her fierce dedication to the cause of organic, locally grown food – a crusade that led her to fill out a 160-page application four years ago guaranteeing that every ingredient going into the home-style dishes served up at the brewery comes from a federally certified organic provider.
But meeting U.S. Department of Agriculture standards means much more than just buying organic ingredients. There are dozens of rules to follow, and even the products used to clean countertops and fight pests must conform to USDA guidelines. And many restaurateurs who share Cooperrider’s dedication to local, organic produce say they can assure their customers they’re getting chemical-free food without the federal stamp.
Annie Somerville, executive chef at San Francisco’s renowned Green’s restaurant, says knowing that the farmers who supply her restaurant adhere to standards more strict than those required by federal law gives her the confidence she needs.
“We are totally in support of an all-organic world,” Sommerville said. “But certification would be a very complex endeavor. Our guarantee comes from the chef to the consumer, not from USDA.”
Cooperrider admits the application is expensive and time-consuming: It costs up to $1,600 a year, and takes her and her son a week of work to renew it.
But the former biologist, who believes her restaurant is helping take the lead in satisfying consumers’ growing interest in knowing exactly what goes into their food, says the certainty she can give her customers makes it worth the trouble.
Ukiah Brewing is only the country’s second organically certified restaurant, after Restaurant Nora in Washington, D.C., but the numbers show people are eating more organic every year.
Sales of organic produce have more than doubled between 2000 and 2004 to $12.7 billion a year, and are expected to double again by 2008.
The USDA doesn’t require establishments that tout their food as organic to seek certification. Restaurants taking the extra step see it as a way to show their customers that organic standards, verified by a third party, were respected at every step between the farm and their plate, Givens said.