In a semester long applied learning project, students probed the “farm to table” trend in Cleveland and created a Top Ten list picked up by local media.

Green Business Students Test Local Food Claims by Northeast Ohio Restaurants

December 7, 2016

Field of lettuceAs the “farm to table” trend has grown in Cleveland’s thriving restaurant scene, green business students at Baldwin Wallace University spent the fall semester testing the sustainable food claims of local restaurants. Dr. David Krueger’s class ultimately developed an honor roll of restaurants that best fulfill the promise to serve local food.

BW green business class final presentation“It’s easy to make the claim, but harder to consistently offer locally sourced food, especially in an area with a shorter growing season,” Krueger noted at a final presentation, attended by Cleveland-based food and travel writer, Douglas Trattner, and representatives from a number of the restaurants. (Read Trattner’s story on the BW students’ work in Cleveland Scene.)

Scoring Sustainability

To carry out their project, Krueger’s students identified 37 restaurants in Greater Cleveland that make sustainable or local food claims on their websites, including online menus, and then analyzed the assertions according to a comprehensive scorecard developed in class. 

Business accounting, finance and management major Taylor Kozak ’17 of Brook Park, Ohio says the restaurants were evaluated in 15 areas including volume of local food and verifiability of menu sourcing claims.

“The scorecard awarded predominately positive point values, but there were deductions for deception,” Kozak explained. “We focused on local sourcing information and practices, but also took into account other sustainability practices such as availability of organic and non-GMO food, composting, recycling, and ethical sourcing practices like fair trade.”

Modeled on Tampa Investigation

A sizzling mealThe project was modeled, in part, on the extensive farm-to-table reporting of Laura Reiley, for the Tampa Bay Times, and she coached the students via Skype. Reiley found rampant deceit or “green washing” in the local food and farm claims made by Tampa Bay area restaurants.

The BW students did not find widespread deception in Cleveland, but did note that a number of restaurants did not respond to their inquiries, in spite of many attempts to contact them in person, and by email and phone.

In each of the winners, the class noted “a highly knowledgeable internal champion” which helped to ingrain a sustainable food culture. Alexandria Eging ‘17, a senior biology major from Seven Hills, Ohio, also pointed out that highly rated restaurants “do not see the need to choose between sustainability and economic success; they are profitable and sustainable.”

Top Ten Led by Great Lakes Brewing, Treehuggers Café

As reported in a final class presentation (and upcoming appearance by Dr. Krueger and sophomore sustainability major David Tatarowicz, of North Ridgeville, Ohio on WVIZ-TV), the top ten restaurants stacked up this way:

Find out more

On the set of WVIZ-TV's IdeasView the entire “Northeast Ohio Farm to Table Restaurant Report” (pdf).

Watch the interview on WVIZ-TV's "ideas" news program (begins at 3:30 into the newscast). 

Read the story in Cleveland Scene.

Read more about BW's Institute for Sustainable Business Practices and Sustainability Clinic.