When I stepped into Local Burger to talk to co-owner Jeff Igneri, I found him in the back of the house, frying and flipping busily and racing to deliver orders. But the packed lunch hour didn’t stop him from serving the meals with a smile and taking time chat with his customers. And when he finally found time to sit down with me, I learned that Jeff doesn’t just know the people that eat his food—he knows the people that grow it. The family-run burger joint, which opened in December of 2008, lives up to its name by maintaining close ties with the community and buying produce and grass-fed beef from local farms.
“Our buy local philosophy wasn’t in the works until we came to the area,” he said. “Out there local isn’t as important. But coming out here and seeing farms everywhere— it makes sense. All the resources are here.”
Local Burger receives shipments of meat three times a week and produce three or four times a week. They buy their ice cream from Maple Valley Farm in Hadley and turn to Chicoine Family Farm in Easthampton and River Rock Farm in Brimfield for beef. Jeff cooks up french fries with potatoes from Szawlowski Farm in Hatfield. He picks up produce once a week from Crimson and Clover Farm in Florence and often, Jeff explained, he’ll stop at farm stands on the side of the road and “pick up what ever looks good.”
Jeff sees his positive relationship with farmers as indispensable. “We have a really good relationship with Chicoine Farm,” he mentioned. “They help us and we help them a lot. Because of our business we’ve doubled their number of cows. And so we’re really all working towards the same goal.”
He also reiterated the importance of buying grass-fed meat from local farms. In a nation run by industrial farming with meat-processing policies that are questionable at best (and, more realistically, are simply appalling,) “You need to know where your meat comes from. If your meat is from Mexico or Florida, you don’t really know what the conditions are like or how many hands have handled it,” he said. “You can see this problem with the big outbreaks of disease. But here we can actually see cows actually eating grass. And it impacts flavor in a huge way.”
Of course there are the usually setbacks: cost, for one. “It’s hard to buy local and then offer items at a low price,” Jeff said. But he also expressed how grateful he has been for the community’s support and has been impressed with how well the restaurant has been doing. And, because we are after all in New England, seasonality is inevitably a factor. “It’s hard to get produce in the winter, and with some items it’s just not possible,” he said. Still, Local Burger does all it can to stay faithful to the growing season. Hence Jeff’s frequenting the farm stands.
And in spite of the challenges, Jeff’s optimistic attitude keeps the restaurant’s vision alive. “It’s actually relatively easy [to buy local here],” he said, showing yet again his affection for the valley. “It’s available, and it makes sense to do it. It feels good to give back to the community.”
|"Amherst Burger"- Grilled portobello with roasted red peppers and crumbled blue cheese|
|Veggie burger with lettuce, pickles, and ketchup|
|Grass-fed beef burger with lettuce and tomato|
I tried the portobello burger while my fellow diners sampled a veggie burger and a beef burger. The fresh portabella was marinated and grilled to perfection, and the veggie and beef burgers were, reportedly, also exceptional. Indeed, it seems that when you are dealing with fresh vegetables and local, grass-fed beef, there’s no need for tons of fancy add-ons and distracting flavors. Just the burger will do.