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Farm-to-table-to-phone: App helps D.C., Md., Va. choose restaurants that source locally

Tuesday - 8/12/2014, 9:19am  ET

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The mobile app Greenease helps diners committed to eating locally sourced foods find restaurants who offer it. (AP/WTOP/Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON -- Consumer demand for local food is extending far beyond weekend farmers markets and CSA programs; it's reaching restaurant menus.

Last year, the National Restaurant Association surveyed 1,300 professional chefs on the most desired foods, beverages and culinary themes in the industry and ranked the top 20. Locally- sourced meats and seafood, locally-grown produce and environmental sustainability were the top three trends the chefs identified.

The same report predicted environmental sustainability and local sourcing at restaurants will still be in high demand in 10 years.

But even though more consumers want local food and more restaurants are sourcing locally, it's not always easy for dedicated diners to find such restaurants. That's why D.C. resident Vanessa Ferragut launched the website Greenease last year, and the mobile app in July.

Ferragut, a local food enthusiast who admits that dining out is a big part of her life, says looking on typical food websites for new restaurants to try didn't always yield the results she wanted.

Users can search for eateries by neighborhood, their current location, the name of the restaurant and the cuisine served.

Yelp search results for "local" often brought up reviews and ratings for "great local dive bar" or "great place to meet the locals," Ferragut says.

"It didn't say anything about the source of the food. When you go to a farmers market, or you subscribe to an at-home CSA program, I know where my food comes from. But when I dine out, I really have no idea," she says.

The app catalogues nearly 600 restaurants, cafes and grocery stores in D.C., Virginia and Maryland that make a point to purchase at least some of their food from farmers in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York. (Ferragut says New York may not seem local, but farms in the general region are a lot closer than the world's industrial farms.)

Users can search for eateries by neighborhood, their current location, the name of the restaurant and the cuisine served. There is also an option to search by categories such as grass-fed, organic, vegan-friendly and sustainable seafood.

"If you have people in your party who are hardcore vegetarians, but let's say you're also dining out with folks who love grass-fed beef, this is kind of a way for everybody to go out together and enjoy something," says Ferragut, who also works as a sustainable event planner.

To be included in the database, restaurants are not required to use a certain percentage of locally-sourced ingredients; as long as they are buying local, they can be included.

"What we're trying to build is this community, this awareness of businesses that buy local and support local farmers," says Ferragut, 36.

So far, the app has been downloaded about 100 times, and Ferragut has plans to launch similar versions in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Ferragut does not want users to confuse Greenease with other health-related eating apps. She says the focus is finding restaurants that are passionate about knowing where their food comes from, supporting better environmental practices and building the local economy.

"So it may be that the pulled pork isn't the healthiest thing on the menu, but it is sourced locally and is hormone-free," she says.

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