Farm to Table | J. TREACY KREGER

Farm to Table | J. TREACY KREGER

Treacy Kreger wants to spread his “ministry of food” to anybody who is willing to listen. With 30 years’ experience as a chef, he has learned a few things about the food industry. His history as a restaurateur began with Charley’s Bar and Grill. Then in 1987, he moved on to purchase the County Seat Deli & Catering.

Treacy eventually left the industry for a bit, heading off to Wall Street for three years to work as a stockbroker and investment adviser. Culinary arts schooling followed in 1999. Upon finishing his training, he proudly opened Vern’s Restaurant (which he named after his father) in 2004; Vern’s stayed open till 2011.

Treacy Kreger currently works part-time as an executive chef at St. Andrew’s Union Retreat. He does his best to source all of his ingredients locally. In fact, much of the produce is actually grown on St. Andrew’s 5,000 sq foot garden. Treacy enjoys that “people come on spiritual retreats and leave thanking me. It’s a unique experience unlike any other food-based retreat they’ve ever known”.

When not cooking at St. Andrew’s, he works to raise awareness of farm-to-table issues beyond the kitchen. Treacy sits in on various committees, and on the Friend’s of the Farmer’s Market board of directors, where he strives to raise money for improvements to the market and for scholarships that support local food production farming. J. Treacy Kreger is also a hopeful contender for Port Commissioner of District 1.

Treacy wants to build a partnership between the public and private sectors by revitalizing local business around food. Because we all have to eat, he figures that we might as well build a more stable economy around food. Within the next 5 years, Treacy would love to move from a food industry model that sources only a fraction of its ingredients locally to one that sources closer to a quarter of its ingredients regionally.

He’s currently trying to get the Port of Olympia to focus on developing local enterprise. As he perceives it, the Port has the ability to build infrastructure while supporting processing, storage, and distribution through private and public partnership industries.

According to a study done in 2009 (by the World Bank, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Euromonitor International), Americans spend less on food than any other country in the world. Most Europeans, by contrast, shop and buy their products daily – many from open air markets that span multiple blocks. The U.S. diet is inexpensive and unhealthy; we spend less at the till and – consequently — get less for our money.

Although good food may be more expensive, it’s still a whole lot cheaper than cheap food. In something resembling a rallying cry, he intones that “We need to talk about farmaceuticals, not pharmaceuticals”. Whether it’s high idealism or not, he believes chefs and restaurants have the power to change people’s eating habits. He pointedly notes that our collective consciousness will always find influence in different places at different times. In the early history of the farm-to-table movement we sought influence from role models like the restaurateur and activist Alice Waters (an early proponent of organics and sustainability), but now surf for sustenance through the shallow pool of the Food Network. In the age of instant entertainment, everyone wants to be a foodie. And yet Treacy maintains that the farm-to-table movement is far from a passing trend.

In the U.S., he guesses that only about 10% of the population can afford healthy food. So the question remains: how can we better incorporate healthier food into our lives? To complicate matters, even if healthy food was more readily available, Treacy feels that we’d still face the challenge of getting people to recognize its value. Assuming that people with financial needs recognize what’s at stake, they then need to be educated about how to prepare it. Due to the federal subsidization of food banks, many Americans are limited to eating and working with processed and prepackaged foods. We only know how to prepare the food that we’ve been given. But Treacy entreats us that “It shouldn’t be a luxury to eat well”.

When I inquire about the prevailing push for locally sourced food in popular culture, J. Traecy Kreger explains its heritage. In this country, the promotion of local ingredients originally grew out of the need to create a stable, secure, strong economy around food. This redirection of the food industry should lead to security and overall economic growth; it centers around producing and purchasing food within the local range — whether this is a next-door neighbor, or another county or state.

The crux of the farm-to-table dilemma comes down to the fact that we’re currently missing the infrastructure that would enable small- to medium-sized farms equal access to all available markets. Despite the direct-to-consumer models (i.e. CSA’s and farmer’s markets), small-scale food producers don’t have a way to distribute to larger institutions like hospitals and schools. They’re either lacking the volume needed to supply such a demand or they’re lacking the connections necessary to form a relationship with such industries. Food hubs desperately need support through the grant system. Meanwhile, farm-to-table practitioners should continue educating the public about how to source and use locally produced products.

Treacy adamantly believes that chefs and restaurant owners can play a pivotal role in the advancement of the farm-to-table movement. A case in point: balsamic vinegar wasn’t commonly used in the restaurant industry a few decades ago. But when chefs and restaurants began adopting it during the early 80’s, the public became more aware of what was available and soon followed suit. Those in positions of influence, therefore, have a responsibility to raise the standards for the type of food that they use. The restaurant industry, furthermore, can do its part by requesting the volume that’s needed. Yes, they’ll need to pay more upfront, but they should rest assure that there’ll be a return from the consumers. Ultimately, if the public demands it, restaurants will have to supply it.

In the end, change needs to come from everyone: average citizens and policy makers alike. A big reason why Treacy is running for Port Commissioner is because he’ll have a better opportunity to encourage public entities to lead that change. Big agriculture had good intentions from the start — we couldn’t have fed the world without that level of industry. It’s now time to produce and supply quality food at the local level though. The taxes that we collect should benefit the community.

If I can detect an underlying pulse to J. Treacy Kreger’s ministry of food it would be this: why do we treat food as a means to one end (sheer survival) rather than as an opportunity to support both the physical health of the individual along with the financial well-being of the local economy? “It took over 30 years for the United States to embrace organic products”, Treacy says, “but the farm-to-table movement’s emphasis on locally produced food might have more impact in the long-term while being more easily accepted at the outset”.

 

By Todd B. Gruel