In today’s food culture, competing buzzwords abound: fast versus farm-to-table, delivery versus sustainability, ready-made versus home-cooked. The tension lies in a seemingly dissonant appetite for both convenience and locally-sourced, fresh food.
But Kentucky restaurateur and farmer Ivor Chodkowski and his business associate Eddie Vetter (no, not Vedder of Pearl Jam fame) are resolving this with a line of products that support regional farmers while providing supermarket shoppers a more convenient way to eat local.
Chodkowski is probably best known locally for co-founding Grasshoppers Distribution, a farm-to-table distributor that lasted for six years until closing in Dec. 2013. At the time of its closing, Grasshoppers Distribution’s network included more than 70 local farms and artisans, and had paid more than $2.25 million directly to Kentucky and Southern Indiana family farms.
But Chodkowski says a growing desire for convenience was part of Grasshoppers Distribution’s downfall.
“There was what we used to refer to as a core group of really hard-core supporters who would go anywhere for us, any drop location, eat whatever it was that we had — processed or unprocessed,” he says. “But there was another, maybe larger, layer of people who wanted something more from us, who wanted something more convenient.”
That’s where the launch of Grasshoppers, a line of prepared and frozen foods made with locally grown produce, comes in. Grasshoppers plans to buy produce from local farmers and process it into packaged items like dips, pickled vegetables, frozen saute packs, and soup mixes.
The products will be created at Chef Space, the non-profit Community Venture’s incubator kitchen in the West End, and will be sold at local grocery stores like Rainbow Blossom Natural Food Markets.
“People have a desire to eat well and support their local economy, but they’re often time-strapped,” Vetter says. “Our products are sold in stores where people are already shopping, so there’s a convenience factor we hope will appeal to a community-minded consumer.”
There are other local shops making pre-prepared foods in-house, including Paul’s Fruit Market and Fond. But Grasshoppers has already partnered with a half-dozen local farms and several additional partners like Bourbon Barrel Foods and Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese, making the sheer size of their operation something new for the community.
“There are other companies across the country that do local processing and local distribution,” Vetter says. “But we didn’t see a lot out there making it as accessible and easy to get to as we have, so we do feel like we are on the front end of a movement.”
Ultimately, the duo hopes to expand the concept to more farms, stores and eventually into new cities — but for now they say Grasshoppers is focusing on making the journey from field to fridge shorter and more convenient.
More information about Grasshoppers can be found here.