But what about the allure of a funky heirloom tomato with its one-of-a-kind terroir and patterning, the likes of which will never be bitten into again? While chefs won't get vegetables with that kind of cultural cache, many swear by the greens. "It's the best basil we've ever had, and they're able to produce it for us year-round," says John Karangis, the executive chef at Union Square Events, USHG's catering and partnership business. Karangis says Union Square Events purchased 11,000 pounds of produce from Gotham Greens between March 2015 and March 2016, and that while they still buy fresh basil from local farmers when it's available, having access to Gotham Greens has been a game-changer.
Karangis definitely feels that the concept is in line with the local food movement, too. "The fact that they're local is definitely very important to us, and their overall integrity and family values... it's all very much in line with what we do and how we operate," he says.
Which is where some foodies and food movement activists may protest. When it comes to defining local, "it generally has to do with distance," explains Gail Feenstra, the deputy director of the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program (SAREP) at UC Davis. But there are other considerations, namely who controls the resources and whether or not they're using those larger resources (which may not all be local) to compete with small farmers. "I guess my question is, 'Are they really filling a niche or are they competing? Are local farmers really unable to supply these markets?'"
Puri says the answer is clear (although it's a fact impossible to verify). "All of our produce here [in Gowanus] is grown by New Yorkers for New Yorkers. Chicago's is grown by Chicagoans for Chicagoans," he says. And Lightfoot agrees. "We're never competing with farmers markets. I'm a farmers market consumer and that would upset me," he promises.
Who they are competing with, they say, are brands that grow greens in California and other far-flung warm climates year-round and then ship the produce to the Northeast and Midwest.