Free-Range Flock

Demand for chicken came before the egg at Standing Stone Brewing Co.

To provide poultry it could be "proud of," says owner Alex Amarotico, the Ashland restaurant founded its own flock last year. The byproduct is about four-dozen eggs gathered daily and used in quiche specials and Saturday breakfast service that started in May. The free-range, organic eggs appeal more and more to Standing Stone customers, along with the brew pubs grass-fed beef, original beer and a new rooftop garden.

"They have an intimate knowledge of where that food is coming from," says Wendy Siporen, executive director of THRIVE, the economic-development and food-advocacy group behind this week's Eat Local Challenge. Standing Stone is a founding THRIVE member and one of the Challenge's participating restaurants that feature at least 75 percent local ingredients.

About three-quarters of Standing Stone's eggs are produced by its 60 laying hens. The small supplement comes from mainstream organic, free-range eggs. But the difference between the two is unmistakable. Yolks in Standing Stone's own eggs are nearly orange while commercial counterparts are a paler hue of yellow.

About 150 more chickens will start laying in the next couple of months, says Amarotico. All 250 birds, including roosters, will move Oct. 1 to new pastures with 13 head of recently purchased cattle. Signing an agreement last month to lease 265 acres of farmland from the city of Ashland, Standing Stone plans to produce poultry for the restaurant by the end of the year.

Amarotico negotiated with the city for more than two years to lease property that officials intended to use for spraying wastewater. When the price of hops hit a high in 2007, the restaurateur started brainstorming ways to grow the essential ingredient in brewing. But his two-year lease at a cost of $50 per acre with an option to renew ultimately was more conducive to raising livestock, says Amarotico.

"I'm sure we'll grow something," he says, adding that the soil needs to be enriched with the restaurant's kitchen compost and the animals' manure.

In the meantime, the restaurant has installed a rooftop garden tended by server and waste manager Brandon Schilling. He started in May with a few recycled food-service buckets set on a concrete pad to grow mint for Standing Stone's signature mojito. Plantings have since expanded to wooden pallets and surrounding rooftop ledges.

The "improvisational garden" contains cucumbers, strawberries and tomatillos and may overwinter some kale and carrots, says Schilling. By building a greenhouse, the restaurant could supply more in the way of produce than just fresh herbs, he adds.

Standing Stone's efforts are not unique locally, says Siporen. But the midprice restaurant proves that locally produced food can be both profitable for businesses and affordable for customers, she says.

"A lot of times, people really equate that with more upscale."