The Chattanooga Convention Center, nationally known for its environmental features and practices, has began a new program to offer conventioneers fresh seasonal produce, breads, meat, cheese, locally roasted coffee and more from local and in-state purveyors.
Dexter King, executive director of the International Association of Assembly Managers, Inc., said, “This is the first convention center that I’m aware of that has a program this extensive. Chattanooga is to be commended for this innovative and proactive approach to sustainability. Agriculture plays an ongoing, fundamental role in a community’s economic health and what the Chattanooga Convention Center is doing is a perfect example of sustainable growth. This takes strong relationships with community and agricultural partners and it’s a fabulous program that they are starting.”
During the meal, the banquet servers will briefly advise the guests what they are eating and the details of where it came from – which farm, bakery or purveyor.
Keith Quatrano, executive chef at the Chattanooga Convention Center, said, “The Chattanooga Convention Center is committed to providing the best possible service and experiences to guests who attend events here. We want to take it one step further and offer them fresh and local goods. By incorporating these local products, we are linking conventioneers directly to the community while also stimulating our own local economy.
“This gives me the opportunity to embrace Southern cuisine while incorporating local ingredients into the menus.”
The Convention Center works through the produce company who serves as a broker between the Center and the local farmers. In the banquet phase of deciding the menu, the center staff will sit down with the client and use a produce calendar to determine what is available during the month of their meeting. The center provides the broker with their needs and the farmers can actually plant and harvest the specific produce to accommodate the center’s clients. The other products are obtained directly from the local bakeries and purveyors on an as-needed basis.
To ensure the finest food quality, the fresh produce is purchased only by farmers that grow crops in accordance with the USDA, FDA and “GAP” (Good Agricultural Practices). This is a series of requirements that establish a baseline for water, soil, sanitation and general business management practices.
Mr. Quatrano added, “When you bite into a fresh tomato that was just picked within 24-72 hours, it’s a completely different taste than any tomato you buy in a store. It’s bursting with a full, acidic flavor. A tomato you buy in the grocery store is distributed while still green – via truck from thousands of miles away. Then it sits in a warehouse until it’s delivered to the end customer. This produce takes weeks to get here and doesn’t have any flavor. I can get local produce within three days and I don’t have to sacrifice taste.”
The Chattanooga Convention Center performs multiple sustainable practices to be energy efficient and stay environmentally friendly. Practices include: waste reduction of non-consumed food by donating to the local food bank; recycling all paper, glass, plastic and corrugated materials; it was the first Center in the nation to incorporate “day lighting” technology which allows sunlight to filter in through 30-foot ceiling openings and complement the buildings artificial light and features individual temperature controls in each exhibit space.