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Terra Cafe, Morgantown

May 15, 2012

by Roanna Martin

“Before Terra can be anything else, it has to be a part of its community. We strive to create a space where members of our community can relax and gather together in a welcoming atmosphere.  Being a part of our community is also supporting others as we hope to be supported. This means buying as many of our products and ingredients from local and regional sources as we can.”

This little statement on the table tent where I am seated captures the essence of Terra Café, located in the Star City neighborhood of Morgantown, WV. Nestled down by the Edith Barrill waterfront park along the Caperton Rail Trail, it is easy to access. There is ample free parking, and there are even bike racks out front. A backyard patio fills up in the afternoon as customers enjoy the fresh air.

Terra Café opened in September of 2011, and has been a member of WVFarm2U since February 2012. After ordering the “Highland Breakfast”- herbed oatmeal bannock topped with a poached egg and honey-herb béchamel, served with a side of fruit and mixed nuts, I sat down to ask the manager, Aaron, a few questions.

Terra Café began with a vision of local ownership and having locally sourced fresh ingredients available to serve the community. And this seems to be a big hit with customers- there is a steady flow of people into and out of the café.  They purchase from a variety of farms in West Virginia, and also some through a foodservice distributor in western Pennsylvania. During the winter, it is much harder to purchase local foods, but they look forward to the market opening again for fresh berries and other items.

Working with local farmers is a pleasure for Terra. The farmers they work with are down-to-earth and accommodating. Some farmers make deliveries to the café, and on Saturday mornings one of the Terra chefs can be found browsing the Morgantown Farmer’s Market picking up items to feature on the menu in the coming week.

Sourcing locally brings its own set of challenges, though. Working at a smaller scale, it is difficult to have consistency, and this requires flexibility and creativity on the part of the chefs. There are tradeoffs that must occur in order- not everything can be bought locally. For example, local bacon is simply not available at a volume sufficient to meet demand. There is only so much bacon that can be harvested from one pig, so they must go through a foodservice distributor to supply what they need. Eggs are another tough shell. In addition to the price being inhibitive, when they go through 15 dozen eggs in one morning, it’s hard to find a local producer able to supply that volume.

All of the breads and pastries are made here at the café, and there are a variety of standard menu items with an assortment of featured items that pop up as product is available. For more menu information, check out their website.

Aaron had some great recommendations for restaurant managers trying to purchase local products. “Be patient and flexible, be grateful for what you can get, and be committed”. “It’s not easy, but it’s worth it”. And for farmers who want to market to local restaurants? There is a great demand. If you can find time out of planting and harvesting to talk to potential restaurants, I think you’ll find that the restaurants will leap at the opportunity.

So, if you’re in the Morgantown area, and looking to support a local business that gives back to the community, be sure to stop by Terra Café.~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As the comments indicate, this post generated some concern about how much the restaurant actually uses local ingredients.  The discussion was good—it raises the issue of how difficult it is in this area to be a “all local” restaurant and also helped us (Roanna and Beth) understand that we need to be more specific in the reporting of the local ingredient dishes prepared and offered by any restaurant we publish here. So, thank you for raising concern and please let’s use this as an example that we are ALWAYS open to ideas to investigate for presentation here.

Roanna went back and spoke with Aaron Russell, the manager of  Terra Cafe.  Here is what he shared:

Thank you for your blog post – it was great. And it has generated a lively
discussion 🙂

As I said in our interview, we certainly don’t want to give the impression
that everything that comes into our kitchen is local. We do the best we
can as a small, growing business to support local growers and producers
whenever possible. We aren’t perfect, but I’m proud of what we do, and
certainly aren’t trying to mislead anyone.

That being said, here’s the list:

-Tofu from Spring Creek Tofu – Spencer, WV
-Maple Syrup from Richter’s Maplehouse – Pickens, WV
-Honey from ThistleDew Farm – Proctor, WV
-Chicken from Gerber’s Amish Farm – Kidron, OH
-Milk and cream from Turner Dairy Farms – Penn Hills, PA
-Apples seasonally (mostly in the fall) – Dawson’s Orchards – Enon Valley, PA
-Seasonal produce from growers at the Morgantown Farmer’s Market, though a
lot of it from Round Right Farms – Terra Alta, WV
-Our one draft beer is a rotating selection from the Morgantown Brewing
Company – Morgantown, WV
-Cabernet Blend wine with all grapes grown in WV from Potomac Highlands
Winery – Keyser, WV

I think we can see that there is a good effort with many ingredients coming from local farms. Perhaps if you are a farm local to Morgantown with products to offer, contact Aaron! And, finally, I think we can patronize this place and enjoy our meals!

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2012 7:09 am

    I leave north of Pittsburgh but my husband often has business in Morgantown. We’ll be sure to visit next time we go south!

    • May 15, 2012 11:42 am

      I live in Huntington, but will stop in here next time I am in Morgantown!

  2. May 15, 2012 11:29 am

    What does this mean?
    “There are tradeoffs that must occur in order- not everything can be bought locally. For example, local bacon is simply not available at a volume sufficient to meet demand. There is only so much bacon that can be harvested from one pig, so they must go through a foodservice distributor to supply what they need. Eggs are another tough shell. In addition to the price being inhibitive, when they go through 15 dozen eggs in one morning, it’s hard to find a local producer able to supply that volume.”

    How does this require flexibility and creativity on the part of your chefs? If you want something that isn’t available or if you deem a local product to expensive you just order it up from Sysco? What local farms are you actually working with?

    • May 15, 2012 11:41 am

      Stacy….I have heard the same issues here in Huntington…no matter how much the chefs try to use local foods, they have difficulties with providing a complete menu year-round. Even with the chefs that have sat in at planning meetings for the Wild Ramp, a local foods market being established in Huntington, we heard the same issues about cost being high and supply from local farmers being inadequate. I also know there are other restaurants in other states that use ONLY local foods, but they tend to be in areas with year-round agricultural production. What is more common, as I travel around the US is to see the names of the farms that provide a specific menu item. So, in answer to your question, we are asking for more specific menu items that are locally sourced and will provide that kind of information here when we get it. Henceforth, when we post about restaurants that indicate they use local farm sources, we will provide more specific information at the time of the initial post.–Beth

  3. May 15, 2012 11:53 am

    beth, i see what you are saying and i think that posting local farm sources is a great idea. but my point is also that bacon and eggs are not necessities. how are chefs being *creative* when this stuff is just getting ordered from mainstream suppliers? the statement that the price of local eggs is inhibitive seems crazy. so local farmers are supported when it is cost effective and convenient? farmers deserve a fair price for their products and not acknowledging that is counter to the local food movement.

    • May 15, 2012 12:04 pm

      Stacy, I really can’t address all the considerations a chef makes to have a restaurant be cost competitive. I think Roanna’s interview with the manager brought up the kinds of issues any chef has to consider when developing sources. The use of a distributor has been so common and we are seeing local chefs begin to break the mold. Some have developed a following even if prices are a bit higher because there are many of us who will patronize a place that uses local foods. However, the more typical model is a restaurant which will use one or items for a few dishes. I recently went to a place in Charleston near the Capital which has local farm sources for chicken and pork dishes. Sometimes small steps like that is what is workable with their business model. Even the small steps are commendable.

  4. May 15, 2012 12:12 pm

    i agree with you completely, small steps are commendable. and i’m not expressing dissent with roanna’s article. i personally believe however, that there is a line between exploiting the label of “local” and actually having a set of standards that don’t bend when something is a little less convenient. that’s what will make the movement stronger.

    • May 15, 2012 12:15 pm

      I myself have interviews scheduled with a few other restaurants in the state that are known for using local sources….I will ask the chefs to address that issue and give us a better glimpse into decision making when local sources might have difficulties.

  5. Dubrovniklady permalink
    May 16, 2012 1:04 am

    I would love to share a meal with you here on my next trip to Huntington.

  6. May 18, 2012 2:24 pm

    Oh the issues that have not even surfaced yet. I am the tofu guy from Spencer mentioned in this article. We have been buying our beans from the same family farm for over twenty five years now. It takes a lot of effort on both sides of the deal to keep it working for all parties involved. I work about a hundred hours a week as is and this is my first blog effort. I will not finish anything here, but hopefully get started. I do not buy my growers whole crop of soy beans, which is only one of his many crops. Most years the portion of his crop that I don’t buy he sells elsewhere for a higher price, and usually with less work into it than is required for me. It almost doesn’t make sense for him to sell me what he does. I am sure glad he does, and we have a commitment to each other, which is quite rare these days. I actually enjoy when something goes wrong and I have to run out to the farm, it grounds me in what the whole issue needs to be about our food. Usually our distributor picks up the beans for us, that is why I said, I enjoy it when something goes wrong and I have to run out to the farm.

    • May 18, 2012 8:04 pm

      Melody Urbanik told me about you several weeks ago and I will be planning a trip to your area this summer and would love to visit you and find out more! Please email me at wvfarm2u@gmail.com and give me your phone number. Thanks! Beth

  7. cnmngrrrl permalink
    May 18, 2012 8:50 pm

    is terra owned by march-westin?

    • May 18, 2012 9:18 pm

      I don’t know. I don’t think ownership was asked or answered.

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