MANSFIELD -- Fresh is always better. That’s why Hudson and Essex is partnering with local farmers and producers to add locally-grown produce to its seasonal menu items.

The downtown restaurant is now sourcing produce from Richland Gro-Op and Everleaf Aquaponics, as well as honey from Draper’s Apiary and shiitake mushrooms from local grower Jeff Wilkinson.

“For us, it's important to buy locally,” said Sierra Carver, head chef at the 51 E. 4th St. fine-dining restaurant.  “Some of our stuff’s coming from just three miles away. You can’t really get more local than that.”

Richland Gro-Op is a cooperative of urban and rural farmers in the county who crop plan and market their products as a collective. The group grows numerous types of vegetables and delivers year-round.

Marqua Myers of Glennhaven Farms grows a variety of veggies in her two high tunnel greenhouses. Her crops include radishes, hakurei turnips, kale and beans. 

Myers had always gardened, but after the death of her husband, she turned to farming for something to do. Myers enjoys the community the Richland Gro-Op provides. Farmers in the cooperative also see it as a way to boost the local economy and address the food desert downtown.

"Hudson and Essex, they have such a reputation in town now for fine dining and excellent dishes and that what I grow is going into those dishes, it's a wonderful thing for me," Myers said. "I still have so much to learn yet, I'm learning everyday. But they had the faith in me to try, that really made me feel food as a grower."

Ingredients sourced from local farmers are invariably fresher than those from larger outlets, Carver said. There’s also more room for quality control.

“In ordering from big companies, it's always a nightmare, sometimes I have a little panic attacks -- Is whatever I'm ordering going to come in looking good? And if not, then I got to figure out where to get it from,” Carver said.

Produce from larger grocers is often harvested a week or more before its sold, said Andy Vaughn of Richland Gro-Op. Locally sourced fruits and vegetables can be harvested as little as a day or two in advance.

“If Siera needs something, she can call us up and we can easily have it within a day or even a couple hours because one of the farms close by can harvest it and bring it in,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn, an urban farmer and the marketing director for the Richland Gro-Op, said the relationship between the co-op and Hudson and Essex gives farmers a sense of financial security and allows them to grow more unique crops.

“We delivered kale to them last year, and so we kind of had this regular kale thing going on every other week,” Vaughn said. “This year when we said, ‘What else can we grow for you?’ And then we handed (Carver) a seed catalog, and she went through and picked what she wanted and then we crop planned it out and here we are.”

Carver has created new dishes for Hudson and Essex centered around veggies you won’t be able to find in a grocery store -- red tabby spinach, rainbow carrots, Asian cabbage varieties, purple cauliflower, white cucumber, seven different types of cherry tomatoes and mizuna mustard greens.

“Normally mizuna is in a mix of salad greens. But this is just straight mizuna, which is really cool. Nobody else has it,” Vaughn said.

The restaurant’s new root vegetable risotto is already popular, Carver said. Mizuna mustard greens are the star of the show in Hudson and Essex’s new salad.

“I think it's a little spicier, it has a little more kick to it and then we've paired it with a buttermilk dressing that kind of cools it down a little bit too so it's not too overpowering,” Carver said.

The red tabby spinach has more mild flavor than the ordinary green variety, complementing this season’s Ora King Salmon.

The co-op typically delivers between 40 and 50 pounds of produce to Hudson and Essex each week.

Seeing their produce used by a local restaurant is a point of pride for the crop of local growers.

“It's good to know where your food comes from,” Vaughn said. “We tend to think, ‘Oh well, it just shows up here,’ but there's a lot that goes into it. These farmers are growing in polytunnels and it's a lot of square footage that they fill and a lot of work.”

“To see these guys get really excited over something and then they have their food show up on the menu here, it's really cool.”

To see Hudson and Essex's spring menu, click here.

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Staff reporter focused on education and features. Clear Fork alumna. Always looking for a chance to practice my Spanish. You can reach me at katie.ellington@richlandsource.com