Local Wolf River apples can add to a Maine wedding.

Local Wolf River apples can add to a Maine wedding. Courtesy Laura CabotCatering

When Christian Hayes, the chef/owner of Dandelion Catering Co. in Yarmouth, prepares a locally sourced wedding dinner, the carrots come in the same day they were harvested, covered in dirt. They are cooked and eaten within 48 hours.

Fresh seafood gets delivered the day before the wedding. Every morsel served after the nuptials is handmade, down to the crackers and preserves. Anything left over in the kitchen is composted. Used cooking oil becomes low-emission biodiesel fuel. Even the electricity that powers the caterer’s ovens, walk-in, ice machine, induction burners and other appliances is local, powered by the Royal River that flows underneath the building.

Hayes and his wife Christine, who is co-owner and general manager of the company, are among a growing number of caterers who consider themselves “green.” While some businesses might just “greenwash” their vegetables because espousing local foods can translate into charging higher prices, Christian Hayes estimates that their business is genuinely 60 to 80 percent green. And that’s still not good enough, he said.

“We want to leave the earth a little better when we’re all done with it,” he said. “We don’t want to leave a lasting impression. That’s the way Christina and I live our lives, and we’re able now to focus on how can we do that with the business too.”

Even with all he does, Hayes doesn’t consider himself “hyper-local” or “hardcore green.”

Few caterers could be called those “because it’s a lot of work,” said Bonnie Fedchock, executive director of the nonprofit National Association for Catering and Events based in Columbia, Md.

“You have to have a passion for it because it’s an extra component to do the work. It really is,” she said. “Are you going to have biodynamic wines? Are you going to have organic beer?”

Fedchock estimates only 5 to 10 percent of her organization’s members place a hardcore emphasis on sustainability and being “green,” which includes both paying attention to the sourcing of food for a wedding and the management of waste after the bouquet has been tossed and the guests have gone home.

Local edible flowers can add to a Maine wedding. Photos courtesy of Laura Cabot Catering

Local edible flowers can add to a Maine wedding.
Photos courtesy of Laura Cabot Catering Courtesy Laura Cabot Catering

“But it’s coming,” Fedchok said. Interest in green catering is growing nationally, she said, in part because local, sustainably raised foods are more available. Plus, sustainability is not only good for the environment, it’s good business.

Within the catering industry, there’s been a big focus recently on food waste, which Fedchok said is like throwing money away. “If we’re the same size caterer, we both spend a million dollars on food alone,” she said, giving an example. “You’re wasting 30 percent of your food product. I’m wasting 10 percent. Who’s ahead? It’s a competitive advantage.”

Offering clients the opportunity to purchase local foods for their wedding dinners and receptions is increasingly a competitive advantage as well. Diane York, a Portland wedding planner, says that in her experience, it’s more than just a trend. For brides planning their big day, it’s now a must. “They always want locally sourced, locally grown food,” she said. “Always.”

York said some of her clients will cut back on their guest list so they can apply more of their wedding budget to food. Hayes has experienced the same thing.

Laura Cabot of Laura Cabot Catering in Waldoboro has been preparing local foods for her clients for 32 years. Local food is sometimes described as that grown within 100 miles. Cabot’s food is often grown on her own acre of land. She also buys meat and vegetables from a half dozen or so local farms, and cheeses from local cheesemakers. In her own gardens, she raises crops she can’t get anywhere else, including specialty lettuces such as speckled Amish bib and treviso, and herbs such as summer savory and chervil.

With all this bounty she makes native pear hand pies, squash pies, and seafood dishes using fresh-off-the-boat lobster from Friendship, local oysters and scallops from her “scallop guy,” Travis Fogg.

“We’re having fun with the beverages, too, these days,” Cabot said, citing the local cider that goes into her wild apple cider switchel.

Local foraged mushrooms can add to a Maine wedding.

Local foraged mushrooms. Photo courtesy of Laura Cabot Catering Courtesy Laura Cabot Catering

After the wedding, Cabot composts all of the refuse from the event in three big compost piles on her property.

For both Hayes and Cabot, green sensibility extends to the plates, bowls and utensils used at a wedding. If it’s a rehearsal dinner, or a more casual reception, they might suggest using Leafware, a brand of disposable dinnerware that’s made from fallen palm leaves. It saves money, and no trees were cut down to make them. Hayes also uses condiment containers made of birch bark.

Both Cabot and Hayes said their clients deeply appreciate green catering. Hayes said that out of the 40 weddings he catered last summer, 25 to 30 of the couples told him they liked the fact that he does all he can to source food locally. Even if they don’t sign up for an all-local menu themselves, they like that his company is “not just flying the flag.”

Both caterers estimate that the cost of a local foods wedding is about 20 percent more than one that uses foods sourced from a big food distributor – maybe as high as 30 percent, Hayes says. Fedchock estimates it’s 10 to 20 percent higher.

Although Cabot cares passionately about local foods and sustainability, she doesn’t worry about being Maine’s most environmentally correct caterer. She won’t sacrifice her client’s big day just to be sure there’s local food on the plate.

“We definitely do what I’d call vegetable-forward, seasonal menus,” she said. She also prefers serving proteins that are sustainably raised and locally sourced, but “I’m not going to shut somebody down because they can’t afford grass-fed beef.”

But she does what she can to teach her clients about the issues. If the bride can afford a couple more dollars a pound for sustainably raised salmon from the Faroe Islands, “I’m going to try to steer you that way.”

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Amish speckled bib lettuce. Photo courtesy of Laura Cabot Catering Courtesy Laura Cabot Catering

Satisfying small budgets isn’t the only obstacle green caterers face. What if a customer wants fresh strawberries at her June wedding, but strawberry season arrives late? Cabot says a certain amount of trust is involved, and that her clients usually support her efforts to find a good substitute. They can forget subbing in frozen strawberries – Cabot won’t serve frozen food.

In Hayes’ case, if something isn’t available, it’s written into the contract that “we’re going to work to find something that meets your vision but is still fresh.”

There’s also the question of what, exactly, qualifies as local? His business, for example, does a lot of pig roasts for weddings and other events, and for a while he had a local farm raising about a dozen pigs a year for him. But then they stopped.

Hayes started talking with Kinnealey Meats in Massachusetts about other possible sources. They told him they had discussed the same issue with some well-known Maine chefs and had concluded that “local” in terms of meat could be defined as no more than a day’s travel away.

“There were actually some incredible pigs that were being raised in Quebec that could get here in a day, so I ended up using some of those,” Hayes said.

However it’s defined, the emphasis on local, sustainably raised foods is certain to continue. Cabot hopes that one day couples will walk down the aisle wearing the philosophy just as they wear a wedding boutineer or a “something borrowed” brooch.

“We need to bring a whole lot more consciousness to what we do every day,” she said, “and what better way to show people your true colors than to choose what you believe for your wedding day?”