I did some heavy research, as I do, and came up with a long and then short list of potential farm-to-table caterers. I called 10 to talk further. The finalists are listed below, starting with my favorite. Plus, there's a longer list of other potential caterers you could talk to.
Obviously, you'll want a caterer who serves meals made with organic and/or locally sourced ingredients. But there are additional things to consider. Ask them how they deal with packaging, whether they compost, where the ingredients are from specifically, and whether the fish and meat is sustainably sourced. (Most caterers will source as much possible locally, by the way, but be open to substitutions in the winter so they can serve more than potatoes and squash!)
It's really hard to compare caterers on price, which is frustrating; there really should be a standard comparison tool. Some have packages. Some will just tell you how much each component – dinner, passed hor d'oeuvres, cocktails, liquor license, staff – will cost. Most require you to get in touch to figure it out. But I found in my research that a New York City caterer who uses local, organic, sustainable ingredients will generally cost overall $175 - $250 per head, with rentals an additional $50ish per head.
If that is way out of your budget, an alternative is to go with a conventional caterer, but specify that it be all or almost all vegetarian. Your environmental impact will be drastically cut, as will the cost!
Our Choice: Purslane Catering
This is the same group that has Rucola restaurant and Cassette restaurant, both in Brooklyn. It has a farm-to-table ethos and delicious, sustainable, and beautifully executed cuisine. They do serve meat, but focus on vegetables, getting a lot of produce right from Brooklyn Grange. They have full recycling and composting in the kitchen, which is out of the venue 501 Union in Gowanus. When they do disposables, they try to get everything from a company called Leafware. For ingredients, they mostly work with local, Hudson Valley, New Jersey, and Long Island – they're even part of a CSA. They try to keep shrimp to a minimum, and avoid unsustainable fish.
Oh, and Purslane in the catering company we settled on! They're just so relaxed, came highly recommended from a friend who plans events, and the food is so delicious – every time I saw them at a wedding event, I would park myself in front of the table to chow down under the guise of having a friendly conversation and asking more questions. I had to drag my fiancé away from the table!
This full service event planning and catering company is committed to using seasonal, local, sustainable and organic products sourced from local family farms and small purveyors. For more than 35 years they have been committed to supporting a regional farm and food economy, and they recently became the first full service event planning/catering company and restaurant in New York City to become a Certified B Corporation.
This catering company has a focus on using local, seasonal ingredients for a more natural, earthy meal that Brooklyn brides favor. They use all compostable items any time they have to use disposables, and they compost food in the kitchen.
This catering company can do a wide range of globally-inspired foods using locally sourced ingredients. They refuse to use styrofoam, recycle everything that is non-compostable, and hahve their food oil collected for biodiesel.
Saucy by Nature gets their ingredients from local farms (including the Brooklyn Grange) and distributors. Careful about waste, they compost and recycle, producing only about a bag of trash a week. And they try to repurpose ingredients, like using carrot peels to make a carrot carbonara, or egg whites in the bar.
Nourish Kitchen + Table is a seasonally-influenced, locally-inspired caterer that provides full-service market-driven fare. They'll work with your vision and budget in mind to create an event that exudes seasonal beauty and fresh flavors.
Fig and Pig uses seasonal ingredients for professional execution of approachable, familiar flavors. They do their best to create as little waste as possible but cutting down on packaging and donating any leftover food.
Zoe has been catering for five years and was an art director before that. She's originally from France, though she mixed flavors from all over the world for her events. She sources organic and seasonal ingredients from Lancaster Farm and the farmers market. She prefers to do a family style dinner. "I like to do a generous meal," she says. "I really focus on the look of my food, and bright colors." She has a lot of focus on vegetables and beautiful grains, though she couldn't point me to any specific sustainability or low waste initiatives.
Other Sustainable Catering Companies to Consider
I couldn't call every catering company that fit my criteria! At the risk of dumping too much information on you, here are a bunch of other farm-to-table caterers in New York City you might consider:
Le Moulin Event Planning & Fine Catering
Real Food Catering