Harvest Seasonal Kitchen opened its doors on September 18th, 2014. Harvest was conceived to connect diners with our vibrant North Texas food community. The objective was not just to serve great food, but to make a long-term impact on the community by supporting the businesses of local farmers, ranchers, and artisans. When we spend a dollar locally, seventy cents stay in our community, and it’s on that principle that the restaurant operates.
Harvest sources almost all of its food from within a 150-mile radius, from proteins to produce, visiting our local farmers market weekly to shop and seek out new farmers. Our menu changes four times a year based on what is seasonally available. This commitment is continued in the bar, which features almost entirely Texas-made liquor and beer. We also brew our own beer in the traditional farmhouse style using Texas grain, malt, and honey. The kitchen uses every part of the animals and vegetables they receive, from preserving in jars and dehydrating into powders to making our own sausage and stock. Operating this way not only saves costs and supports our local economy but also lowers our carbon footprint.
It’s not just the food and drink, either. All flowers for the restaurant are purchased from a nearby flower farm. The tables and booths were crafted by a local artisan, and artistic prints of local farmers adorn the walls. Our farmers are also featured in the restaurant marketing materials handed to each guest with their check, to strengthen the connection between the guest and the farmer. Old paper menus are cut into coasters, the water glasses are made from recycled wine bottles, and the dining napkins are reusable cloth towels laundered in-house. All takeout containers are compostable, and we are using all LED bulbs to light the restaurant.
We started our own organic farm to supply the restaurant called Water Boy Farms, which is worked by the Harvest employees and supplies flowers, microgreens, produce, and honey from its 24 beehives. All eligible kitchen waste is taken to the farm and composted for the garden. This agricultural connection really drives home the journey from the farm to the table for the Harvest employees. Several times a year, the staff also take field trips to visit local producers and learn their processes, from farms to distilleries and breweries.
Being a company with a mission has led to low turnover, saving significant money and resources, and high staff engagement. In 2019 we hired our first two adults with special needs from nearby HUGS Café, a nonprofit dedicated to preparing this underserved population with the skills necessary to become employable in the hospitality industry.
In the beginning, we believed that most of our impact would be made by the purchases from the kitchen and bar, through these direct transactions with our farmers. That impact is significant, but we quickly realized the much greater opportunity to make powerful change in our community was in bringing like-minded individuals together in the restaurant and exposing them to our mission. To expand our reach and impact, the restaurant established the Harvest Seed Project Foundation (www.spftx.org).
The Seed Project funds educational, agricultural, and community initiatives that support sustainability. We define sustainability as a social challenge that improves the current quality of life without compromising future generations. The Foundation was established on the premise that funding sustainable ideas today will support ecological and social balance in the future. Providing seed money for local causes that enhance the principles of sustainability is our mission. With our platform at Harvest (and our owner’s other nearby restaurant, Rick’s Chophouse), we expose thousands of people to our mission every single week. In partnership with the nonprofit Round it Up America, we can take donations to the Seed Project right on the credit card slips at the restaurants.
As restaurant people, our strength is in throwing great events, and that is how we do most of our fundraising. In addition to an annual gala, Harvest hosts four seasonal Suppers with a Cause each year, where we highlight one sustainable local nonprofit as the beneficiary of all proceeds. We also host a couple of day-long farm tours every year, bringing the public out to engage and build relationships with our farmers and learn where food comes from.
The Seed Project hosts three Farm-to-Table Symposiums every year, each of which brings together over a hundred local farmers, ranchers, artisans, chefs, restauranteurs, and local food advocates. These Symposiums aim not just to encourage networking but to educate one another and spark ideas. At one of our Symposiums in 2017, two farmers started chatting over dinner about the need for a cooperative distribution hub in Dallas-Fort Worth, to save individual farmers time spent making deliveries to restaurants. In 2018, they were awarded a $500,000 grant by the USDA to make it a reality and their company, Profound Foods, is thriving. In 2017 we established the Farm Crisis Fund, a reserve in the Foundation dedicated to helping our local farmers and ranchers through times of natural disaster or economic crisis.
The Seed Project also sponsors the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance’s (FARFA) Annual Farm and Food Leadership Conference, held in McKinney in 2017 and 2018. FARFA is a national organization that supports independent family farmers and protects a healthy and productive food supply for American consumers by promoting common-sense policies for local, diversified food systems.
Through the Seed Project we have funded grants to local conservation groups including the Collin County Master Gardeners and Texas Master Naturalists, including a 2019 grant to support their restoration efforts of the Blackland Prairie at the nearby Connemara Conservancy. In fact, our Executive Chef Andrea Shackelford is a Master Gardener, and our General Manager Toby Thomason is a Master Naturalist. Both volunteer extensively for the organizations.
Educating our youth about where food comes from is one of our most important duties. To that end, we have funded the construction or expansion of several school gardens in our county, from elementary schools to high school Future Farmers of America (FFA) programs. The Seed Project has also funded gardening programs for adults with special needs and community gardens that work to improve food access for those in need.
Taking care of our less fortunate and marginalized population makes for a more sustainable future. In 2017, we raised $40,000 towards the capital campaign for Community Garden Kitchen, a McKinney nonprofit with the goal of building a facility to provide meals to anyone in need, no questions asked. They have recently broken ground on the project. We have also funded grants to the Samaritan Inn, our county homeless shelter, which runs a rehabilitation program to help shelter residents get jobs, apartments, and back on their feet. This year, we issued a $25,000 grant to Family Health Center, a nearby clinic that provides care on a sliding scale regardless of insurance status.
We believe we can change the way people eat, think, and live by using our platform at Harvest to bring guests into our mission, strengthening the bonds between agriculture, education, and community to create a more sustainable future.