How To Craft Innovative Menu Ideas and Manage Food Seasonality
“This journey connects you to nature in a way that you feel you need to do something to reverse climate change and to produce your own organic food or to be mindful of health and environment,” says Kimberly Farrell, of Finca Luna Nueva, a Regenerative Resort located in Costa Rica. When you travel, do you look for hotels which make such grand statements about the food you eat transforming you while reversing climate change?
Regeneration is about going beyond green and sustainable to creating a positive change to our ecosystem. Since cuisine is a top priority in travel, farm-to-table also referred to as “farm-to-fork,--refering to locally grown or produced food--is found at the heart of many hotels under the Regenerative Resort collection..
At Playa Viva, another Regenerative Resort property, located on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, this commitment to producing food locally meant having a farm on-site. “The farm is often the incubator for eco-minded ideas and permaculture principles at Playa Viva and, as such, is frequently pushing these ideas and values out to the rest of the hotel operations and guest experience,” explains Nick Wolf, Head of Agriculture at Playa Viva.
These values include caring for the broader community and creating conversation around local culture. Nick explains that much of Playa Viva’s produce, including arugula, kale, peppers, and cucumbers amongst more than 50 other offerings, serves its guests based on what’s in season. This allows guests to understand weather patterns and growing conditions in a new climate, and also generates an opportunity for the resort to further educate them on local crops versus species that were brought in to round out the variety of certain fruits and vegetables.
"The farm has also allowed Playa Viva to participate in the farmers and artisans market (Eco Tianguis Sanka) in Zihuatanejo on a weekly basis since 2013,” says Nick. "The farm acts as a conduit to the broader community, connecting Playa Viva not only with the land, but also with the residents and other organizations and businesses.”
In a similar scope, Finca Luna Nueva unveiled their farm-to-table program in hopes to create deeper connections and longevity in Costa Rican culture. After 40 years of being in the agriculture industry, Finca Luna Nueva’s Steven Farrell recognized the effort to produce organic agriculture being undermined by climate change, and thus searched for new opportunities to make a positive change in the way we grow and consume food.
"The best way to slow down and reverse climate change is via regenerative agriculture,” shares Steven on his decision to convert the Finca Luna Nueva farm to regenerative practices. "These methods can include organic processes but it needs to use different practices that keep the carbon in the ground via keeping living plants on the soil and doing the minimum tillage possible.”
Finca Luna Nueva collaborated with Steven as a way to reflect the property’s “core values,” shares his daughter Kimberly Farrell. Since the farm was an extension to the resort, guests aren’t able to walk out their front door and see it, however, Finca Luna Nueva offers every guest a two-hour complimentary tour of the farm, as a way to better understand the dedication of the resort and community to this desirable lifestyle.
"Our farm was always used as a teaching center for the benefits of organic farming using Biodynamic practices,” adds Steven. "Once the decision was made to open our farm and facilities to the public we shared the message with our guests on the role of regenerative agriculture in the preservation of biodiversity and the production of nutrient dense food while capturing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil.”
Along with this improved guest experience, both Playa Viva and Finca Luna Nueva comment on the opportunities this has created to engage and educate not only the guest community, but also the local community.
"Having a farm on-site has allowed Playa Viva to host student groups as well as training sessions for other farmers,” says Nick.
Kimberly adds, “Our mission becomes their [guests] mission in life, not just for vacation. They go home wanting to change their lifestyle.”
Yet even as the farm-to-table experience continues to grow from resort to resort, country to country, joining the movement isn’t as easy as getting to know your local farmer. While this is a starting point, Nick also suggests starting by, “Building a strong relationship between the kitchen staff and the farm staff. They need to recognize that a farm-to-table program is a team effort and will require the farm to reach forward to the table, and the kitchen to reach backward to the farm.”
Nick continues, saying that once this communication is understood, the resort should, "Start with crops where the farm can add the most value to the kitchen and dining experience. What's not available locally or organically that the chef or guests would love to have? At the same time, find those local crops and plants that are native to the area (and thus grow easily) and work with the chef and kitchen staff to incorporate them as essential ingredients in the menu. These crops can form the backbone of the farm-to-table program by supporting the farm as it experiments with other, riskier crops, cementing the relationship between the kitchen and the farm, and providing important early wins to both teams."
As more and more properties continue to catch on, Steven encourages other resorts to study what makes them successful, then apply this to their particular values for the best results. "By showing other properties that creating diverse polyculture systems on their grounds or working with nearby local farms can offer their guests the freshest nutrient dense food available and at the same time, share the message of supporting the reversing of climate change with their forks.”