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Queen of Cuisine

Ethical Burritos (no, not a new band)

On my lunch plate is chicken, raised by Rodney, a farmer in Minnesota’s Morrison County, and peppers grown by Gary of Dahl’s Farm in Apple Valley. One of those hyper-trendy locovore cafes? No. Chipotle.

Wait, wait, I haven’t sold out. I don’t eat fast food and I don’t support chains, but this is so not-your-normal national empire of step-to-the-counter meals. Or I wouldn’t be happily chewing.

Chipotle’s regional marketing director, Mike Fuller, is on hand to explain the difference, and the company’s perspective. “Seventy percent of what we serve comes from local growers,” he begins. (OK, Minnesota is not big on avocado farming, but nearly everything else, starting with that chicken flavoring my two-handed burrito, comes from our own back yard.) Like vintners boasting “terroir” who document the source of every grape they squeeze, Chipotle tags the (uber-) local source of its chickens—today Rodney, tomorrow another member of Just Bare, a poultry co-op of family farms pledged to raising their birds humanely, sans antibiotics and with no animal by-products in their feed—in other words, says Just Bare, “raising food with integrity.” The kind you want your kids to eat.

Then we tramp through some of the 11,000 acres of vegetable fields under the care of Gary Dahl, bemoaning the recent annihilating hail damage of that early-August storm. Lots of sweet green peppers left with dings and dents, discarded by pickers and languishing on the ground. The spared green beauties get trucked to Chipotle kitchens, where—like the onions, herbs and tomatoes—they’re sliced and diced entirely by hand on a daily basis: no can openers, no freezers and no microwaves on the premises of any of the 50 metro stores.

You prefer pork to chicken? Fine. It’s sourced from Niman’s, another every-growing operation based on family farms. Thanks to Chipotle’s support of little-guy producers, Niman’s is able to add an additional small, family-based pork raiser to the group for every two new Chipotles to open around the land. Take that, agribusiness!

Recently Chipotle entered into yet another local partnership, and I’m toasting the marriage with a beer. Summit Brewery of St. Paul is the new spouse, and its craft-brewed, spice-friendly EPA (extra pale ale) is now available in most local Chipotle locations. I’ll drink to that! (Well, I guess I already did.)

P.S. As a good corporate citizen, Chipotle is sponsoring the edible garden at Como Zoo, which introduces urban kids to where food comes from. The company also donates a portion of its cash-register receipts to local schools.



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