The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

National and world

May 11, 2014

Tribal ag program brings farm to casino restaurant

OKLAHOMA CITY — When guests dine at the Red Oak Steakhouse in Quapaw, the tomatoes on the salad are grown across the street from the Downstream Casino Resort at one of the tribe’s four new greenhouses. Soon, the steaks will come from the tribe’s cattle herd, and the salad dressing will be made from its beehives.

The national trend of a farm-to-table concept is taking hold at the restaurant thanks to the Quapaw Tribe Agriculture Program, a new venture to create jobs and offer healthy food to casino guests and tribal members.

“We’re just trying to diversify our economy of the tribe, and we want to be able to provide our own restaurants with beef that we control from birth to the plate and make sure it’s real good-quality stuff,” Quapaw Tribe Chairman John Berrey said.

The four greenhouses were built earlier this year to grow a variety of vegetables and herbs for the restaurant, Downstream Casino spokesman Sean Harrison said. The tribe added 140 head of cattle in April that will be weaned and fattened before slaughter, Berrey said. The tribe also has a herd of bison and plans to get about 40 more in October from Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

Four people have been hired to work at the greenhouses, and additional workers will be hired to take care of the cattle and beehives, Harrison said.

Earl “Duke” Walter, the steakhouse’s manager, said the locally produced products help set the restaurant, which opened along with the casino in 2008, apart from others in the area. It also helps the chef create new menu items to draw in customers, he said.

The tomatoes have been used to make a tomato gin soup, Walter said, and honey from beehives the tribe soon will add could be used for a variety of purposes, including salad dressings and sauces.

Restaurants leave a carbon footprint, Walter said, so making it sustainable is important. He said he would eventually like to be able to produce 90 to 95 percent of the restaurant menu locally, including eggs, chicken and pork.

This is not the first time the tribe has taken an innovative approach to using its land. It was the first in the nation to lead and manage the cleanup of a federal hazardous waste site, which once housed a Catholic Church and boarding school that tribal members attended. The Tar Creek Superfund site, a 40-square-mile area that includes portions of Kansas and Missouri, is contaminated by leftover mine waste.

“I think this is just another extension, another way for them to try and give back, try and put something back into the land instead of just take, take, take,” Walter said.

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