Therefore, we make very deliberate and conscious choices about how we source, prepare and serve the food at River Café. We also make deliberate, conscious decisions on how we operate. Eliminating bottled water, reducing energy consumption and water use, reusing materials, recycling and composting, are just some of the ways we lessen our impact on the environment. We are constantly reviewing our practices and innovating ways to further reduce our footprint, and to contribute to a healthy community within which to live and work.
We work with Ocean Wise at the Vancouver Aquarium and rely heavily on their current, valuable scientific information on sustainable choices. We often buy direct from the fishermen, and coastal shellfish operations that best manage their resources.
The quest for quality ingredients has led us into the field – literally! We take field trips to visit farms to see first hand the practice of growing food and rearing livestock. We have even partnered with some of our suppliers and participated directly in growing food. Most notably, with Penny Marshall, for several years we created a ‘garden apprentice’ program at Highwood Crossing Organic Farm. Kitchen staff spent time throughout the growing season sowing, tending and harvesting organic produce. The benefits of this project were many of our apprentices developed enormous enthusiasm and appreciation for each ingredient, which in turn was shared and adopted by the rest of the staff. The education went both ways, and Penny discovered, from having cooks in the garden, new ingredients previously discarded, like Beet thinning. Our whole staff learned what it took to grow an ingredient and shared a common respect for how it should be handled.
The kitchen garden program led us to creating an extensive edible container garden and installing raised beds directly on site at River Café and at Boxwood. We grow edible greens, berries, herbs and flowers.
We can feature fresh ‘just picked’ ingredients like edible flowers and greens, just picked at lunch and just picked at dinner. This eliminates a few things like the energy used for transport, and the energy used for storing in our refrigerators. We simply pick before service each day contributing to the quality and freshness on the plate, and to the quality of experience for both the staff and guest.
We are, of course, limited to our short growing season and the size of production. Our gardens produce a fraction of our requirements, but they add much to our variety. We continue to work on increasing our production and yield each year, and hope to further intensify and maximize our growing potential.
In addition to sourcing from farms and our edible garden, we have also sourced from the gardens of our staff. Many of our staff are passionate about growing food and there is much excitement around sharing seeds and plants at the beginning of the season, and sharing the fruits at harvest. This strong and growing community of in house gardeners mirrors one of the most exciting recent developments in Cities today—The emergence of Urban Agriculture
We source from half a dozen urban farmers—from the commercial greenhouses of Hotchkiss, to the tomatoes grown in Gertrude’s back yard. Rod Olsen of Leaf and Lyre Urban Farms has been working with us to seed and plant our container gardens at the restaurant, and mentor us to tend and harvest for a higher yield.
Beyond the expected paper and cardboard recycling, the mantra Reduce, Reuse and Recycle is embraced at River Café. With extensive composting and recycling initiatives we have reduced our landfill waste by more than 30% of a typical restaurant. This is possible thanks to Blaine at PEL recycling, (our one and only ‘one stop’ pick up service distributing to various collection sites and compost facilities). While this does come with additional cost, and more space is required for the bins storing the different material, we fully expect this practice to become the norm across our industry with time. Our city needs more compost facilities and incentives to achieve further successes in this area.
One easy initiative that we undertook early on, is with the purchasing of supplies. There are now numerous eco certified products on the market and therefore the decision to purchase green supplies is easier than in the past. At River Cafe all of our paper products for the office, point of sale, washroom supplies and hand towels are green products. In 2011 we met our goal of using only 100% compostable materials for all of our takeout and catering supplies, which were collected and removed to a composting facility.
During the floods of 2005 we lost two weeks of peak business, not because we were knee deep in water – that was temporary, but due to the damage caused by the Bow River on the Island’s infrastructure. We lost the sewer line which removed waste water from River Café. This experience gave us pause to rethink a number of practices and some of our equipment. We became accutely aware of our water use because we had to remove all wastewater by truck for many months during the repair. It lead us to rethink many of our practices in the kitchen, like replacing the use of continuously running cold water to cool stocks with large frozen cool packs. We found replacements for our water cooled refrigeration. In 2010 we also achieved a long standing goal to eliminate purchased bottled water at the table and have introduced in house filtered still and sparking water in reusable bottles which are maintained on site.
We use 100% green energy in our operations – wind generated electricity and green gas – both provided by Bullfrog Power. Green natural gas comes from decaying organic matter in landfills, which produces an energy-rich gas, which can be injected into the natural gas system. It is considered a net-zero carbon dioxide emissions energy source without contributing to climate change.
Green energy is an extra cost to conventional energy and is charged as a percentage actual use. While deciding to incorporate Bullfrog’s power into our energy purchasing, we paused to rethink, and reduce our use. Through a ‘lights out’ initiative in the dining room during daytime hours, and replacing fixtures and lamps to more efficient models, we saved the dollars required to purchase the green premium.
In 2008, River Café general manager Kristi Peters Snider conducted a Carbon Footprint Study comparing the impact of local versus imported foodstuffs purchased by River Café. Through this valuable work we recognized vast inefficiencies in local distribution networks, which was shared with many of our suppliers. This valuable information has led to new distribution collaborations and in some cases, the purchasing of more efficient delivery vehicles. Kristi also developed River Café’s Sustainability Report a valuable tool to record and measure River Café’s sustainable progress.
The ability to measure progress is essential to our achieving goals. River Café’s Sustainability Report allows us to reflect, rethink and plan ahead.
Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice
River Café is a LEAF certified restaurant. Janine Bolton’s initiative to create a national certifying body for sustainable restaurants provides a very valuable resource for restaurants and consumers. LEAF provides an independent assessment by a certified professional environmental auditor, based on 10 categories: Food, supplies, Energy use, Building, furnishings, chemicals, waste and recycling, employees and policy employee health, and innovation. To this point, we were dependent on our own self-assessment. LEAF brought us a new perspective on many areas, accompanied by some very straight forward and easy to adopt recommendations to further achieve sustainability.
The environment and culture of ideas and education relating to our sustainability philosophy has created an ongoing ‘kitchen table’ of discussion at River Café. We want our purchasing decisions to have an impact on the issues we care about.