Photograph courtesy of Daniel Orr

FARM Chef Daniel Orr knows "real food." Like other restaurant owners in Bloomington, he buys local to support farmers and give back to the community.

Chef Daniel Orr trots around the kitchen of FARM restaurant with ease, dabbing each plate with his culinary touch. Whatever the order, whatever the day, Orr knows "real food."

And from experiences on his family's farm in Columbus and his eatery in Bloomington, he can attest to the significance of supporting local farmers and buying local food.

"FARM is community-driven, where we support local farmers," he says. "We do sustainability projects, such as composting and recycling. We try to give back to the community, and, hopefully, we will earn the trust of our locals and people that come in from IU."

In December 2007, 45-year-old Orr opened his restaurant after 25 years of "playing with other people's money," as he puts it. His resume is built around experiences in France, the Caribbean and New York, and includes a famed roster of customers, such as Beyonce, Aerosmith, Madonna, Donna Summer and Aretha Franklin.

Orr's mission to support local farmers has earned him a place among Bloomington crusaders for local foods, which already includes Bloomingfoods (a cooperative grocery) Restaurant Tallent, Nick's English Hut and a host of others.

Bloomingfoods has grown steadily over the years, in part because of its emphasis on healthy foods.

"The fact that we started as one little store and now we have three stores reflects that Bloomingfoods is doing well," says Amy Loop, Bloomingfood's floor manager and buyer of local meats and cheeses. "People are worried about their health more than they used to be, and people are more aware of the harmful effects of the conventional growing of foods."

Local food beneficial to health, community

According to Sustainable Table, a Web-based community that supports local sustainable food, locally-grown products are healthy for consumers and animals, help protect the environment, support farmers and enhance local communities.

Photograph by Amy Frye

Bloomingfoods is the Bloomington community's local co-op and has been for 32 years. Stocked with organic, local and conventional foods, the grocer helps buyers distinguish between what they buy.

Orr agrees. "We need to be able to stand on our own two feet globally," he says. "I think it's important to support your local farmers."

A study by the New Economics Foundation in London says a dollar spent buying locally generates twice as much income for the local economy as a dollar spent at a corporate chain.

Buying local not only saves family farms, a part of American heritage, but can improve people's health. By purchasing local, organic foods, consumers steer clear of toxic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides found in food produced by corporate and industrial agriculture.

According to Sustainable Table, New York Times bestselling author Jo Robinson said grass-fed beef has two to six times more omega-3 than factory-farmed, grain-fed meat. Omega-3 is a "good" fat that helps the cardiovascular system, brain function and may prevent cancer.

Furthermore, Farmers' Markets Today, a business journal for direct-to-market farmers, says most fruits and vegetables produced within the United States are shipped from California, Florida and Washington. This means food travels, on average, 1,500 miles before reaching its destination. That can be seven to 14 days in transit before even reaching the supermarket.

Locally grown food costs more, but it is easier on the environment. "It is a little more expensive, but I care about my health and the environment," Loop says. "Organically produced products leave less of a footprint."

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, hog, chicken and cattle waste polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states during the 1990s.

Sustainable agriculture works in harmony with the natural environment and does not destroy it, according to Sustainable Table.

Growing popularity of 'farm-to-table cooking'

Orr's knowledge of these risks with conventional foods reinforces his choice to use as much locally-grown and organic foods as possible.

"People are worried about their health more than they used to be, and people are more aware of the harmful effects of the conventional growing of foods."
- - Amy Loop

"It's fun to have our own guests that come to the restaurant and bring in buckets of tomatoes or cherries that they just can't use," he says. "They say, 'Here Chef, make something.'"

Orr likes the idea of FARM providing the community with "farm-to-table cooking."

IU senior and biology major Katherine Baron said she has learned from shopping locally.

"At first, I wasn't very educated on the difference between local organic, and conventional foods," she says. "But, when I shop at Bloomingfoods, I know what I am buying, and I feel safe doing so."

As Orr sits in the bar, the sun shines through the front windows of the historic 1913 Oddfellows building, once the home of a fraternal order that aided farmers before crop insurance existed.

"FARM was a combination of everything I've done in the past, from growing my own rooftop herbs in Manhattan to working in the Caribbean," he says. "Working with the local fisherman and farmers down there made me really want to work with local people and buy local produce."

Amy Frye can be reached at