Farm to Table: Something New to Satisfy Your Appetite
When people go out to eat, probably the last thing on their minds is “where did this food come from?” Well the quick answer to this is that they buy food in bulk from a number of different places. However, to the consumer, it is impossible to know the quality of the food. For all you know, the food sold to you at the local food truck could be the same food sold to you at the 5 star restaurant near you. However, there has recently been a surge in popularity in a new method. Farm to table restaurants. Yup, that's right. Food directly from a local farm and on to your table. This is a concept not many are familiar with. So, to answer any questions you may have, welcome to the world of farm to table.
Farm to Table
This term can mean something different to different people. At its heart, what farm to table was originally meant to be was food the came directly from a specific farm and to your table. This means cutting out the middleman, which are usually stores, markets and distributors. In the terms purest form and in the rawest definition of food to table, it means that the table is literally at the farm, and the cooks and chefs prepare the food at the farm. Think of it like a farm, turned restaurant. In fact, there are some events that do this, like the Outstanding in the Field events.
In today’s society, the term farm to table, is more about the relationship between a farm and a restaurant. Promoting and supporting local farmers doing what they do best. Having these farm to table places can lead to a pretty deep commitment and even friendship with one another. The farm growing produce and raising livestock specifically requested by the chef. The restaurant in return guarantees to buy a certain percentage or even the entirety of the crop. This leads to a mutual relationship between them, a relationship which benefits everyone involved. The farmer gets more of the profit, rather than selling to a 3rd party and the restaurant gets more customers because they know the food is good quality and fresh. Items advertised by the restaurant will often be delivered directly to the restaurant within hours of the harvest, as well as the ability to carry specialty items that not that many people in their area grow.
Restaurants and Food
Hopefully I have piqued your interest in how restaurants get their food. Unless you have worked in the restaurant business, or you are just really nosey, you probably have no idea. Well, here are just a few of the ways this happens.
- Broadliners- these are services that deliver the food you need to run your business, including meat, seafood, produce and other prepared items. They allow the restaurant owner to set a regular schedule daily, weekly, or monthly.
- Retail Warehouses- These warehouses sell food in larger quantities than regular grocery stores. These are places like BJs, Costco, and others.
- Food Catalogs- There are some places that buy from farms or producers and sell it in bulk to wholesale stores or to retail customers. However, most of these deal in canned food, rather than fresh food.
So the question then becomes, where do they get their food? Most likely, from factory farms. Farms that mass produce crops and livestock purely for sale. These factory farms are horrible for any number of reasons, pick one. Animal cruelty, pesticides and herbicides contributing to soil, water and air pollution, risks to human health.
Farm to Table Benefits
Now, I mentioned some benefits already, but there are so many more to the farm to table concept. So, let’s jump in.
- Farm fresh food is normally more nutritious. This is because there is no need to add in preservatives or freeze it because it will only need to travel (ideally) a short distance to the restaurant. In addition, locally grown food, especially organically grown food, often tastes better and extremely healthy for you. Most cases, fruits and vegetables that had to be shipped to a restaurant from a warehouse or other bulk business, had to be transported nearly 1,500 miles. Also about 40% of fruit and 12% of vegetables were imported from outside the United States. To keep these from going bad during the travel, they were often harvested before they had time to ripen and completely absorb all the nutrients from the plant.
- It is better for the Earth. Not only do most local farms grow their food organically, meaning without pesticides or additives, there is also no need for huge trucks to transport the food that 1,500 miles to its destination. This means less carbon emissions. For example, the average 18 wheeler travels about 5 miles per gallon of gas. Yeah, they aren’t exactly the most fuel efficient. This means that about 500 gallons of diesel fuel is needed for that 1,500 mile trek. And we all have seen that disgusting cloud of black smoke pouring out of the top of those trucks.
- Farm to table is a great support for the local economy. Most of the time, the wholesalers and bulk companies get their food from factory farms. By having this farm to table relationship, the local farms get all of the restaurants food related business. This keeps the farms in business by have a constant customer and even helps the restaurant because the consumers know they are getting quality and 100% fresh food being served to them.
- This method offers a wide selection of food available. Basically, anything that is in season could potentially be offered at the restaurant. Not only does this mean a diverse selection of fruits and veggies, but also meats, fish, cheese and other dairy products, and even baked items.
- The farm to table concept is not only becoming popular in restaurants, but also in schools. It is important to bring this concept to the younger generation to teach them the importance of eating healthy, as well as supporting local businesses. The earlier they learn this, the better they will understand it and implement it in their lives more fully. Farm to school and farm to cafeteria movements are becoming widely accepted nationwide, especially in schools in more rural, farmland areas.
The relationship between the farm and restaurant goes beyond just the farm to table chefs buying the food from the farm. The chef or the owner of the restaurant should also be be aware of how the food is produced and how the livestock is raised. Not only that, they should know the manner in which the livestock is slaughtered and processed.
In the U.S., it is required by the Department of Agriculture or state inspectors for all meat to undergo inspection. However, there is currently a lack of adequate slaughtering and meat packing plants working with small scale livestock farmers to fulfill the demand for more of their meat type.
For this reason, it is important for the farm to table chefs to be involved partially with the processing of the meat. The whole idea of farm to table is to provide fresh and better quality food to the customers. If the farm source for the food is not processed correctly, it defeats the purpose. Therefore, even when the chefs are trying to stay as local as possible, the meat may have to travel a distance to the slaughtering and processing facility. However, it is ideal that the farmer takes care of that himself, or has someone local to deal with it. Chefs that are completely devoted to providing the best quality possible should follow up with the farmer and the processing facility themselves, to ensure everything is above par.
These farm to table restaurants, though they have cut out the middleman, still have to obey the standard quotas created to prevent overfishing. The regulations in place for fish are much different than for meat. This is because a large amount of fish is often imported from overseas, specifically southeast Asia. For example, catfish is under regular inspection by the federal government in the U.S. In other words, the restaurant will be in charge of that inspection and will have the responsibility to obey those standards themselves. They will most likely purchase the fish directly from the fisher, meaning customers will not be getting farmed fish or fish caught in “poorly regulated” international waters. One example of a controversial catfish is the Swai fish from southeast Asia.
Farm to Table Restaurants in Winter
By now, you may be thinking, “yeah, this farm to table thing is pretty cool. But how do these places survive during the winter?” It is a valid question. Since most places in the U.S. get snowfall over the winter months, December through March sometimes, how to the farms continue to provide food. Regular restaurants are able to maintain the same menu year round. This is because they are usually getting their food imported from areas with a stable climate year round. With restaurants using the farm to table concept, it is simple actually. They alter their menu to allow for crops and meat that is currently in season.
Farmers that have contracts with restaurants, to keep their business stable, turn to greenhouses to continue growing crops. They also use vegetables pickled in the warmer months and change the menus to reflect seasonal tastes and ingredients. For example, in the summer, the meals are lighter with more fruits, vegetables and fish. This is because the heat of the summer does not make you want to eat a hefty meal. Whereas in the winter, the meals will be heavier and full of meats like steak, lamb and chicken, along with pastas and grains.
Best Farm to Table Restaurants in the U.S.
Farm to table has blown up in the recent years and it is more than just a hipster trend. The concept has been around for years but not that many people have been interested in the idea. That is, until it became trendy to actually care about where your food came from. When the whole organic trend started, it opened the realm of possibility for farm to table to make a comeback. And it has. Here are 5 of the best Farm to Table restaurants in the U.S. (In no specific order)
- AR Valentien- This restaurant is located in La Jolla, California at The Lodge at Torrey Pines. Head chef Jeff Jackson buys almost all of his ingredients from nearby small farms or specialty food purveyors. The menu changes every week sa the best local producers supply their season foodstuffs.
- Montagna at the Little Nell- placed in Aspen, Colorado, this place is unique because chef Ryan Hardy actually purchased a family farm with his business partner. That farm is the source for the restaurant's pork, lamb, chicken and eggs. Their beef comes from local grass-fed cattle.
- Blue Hill- Smack dab in New York is one of the best farm to table restaurants in NYC. Their menu offers two options, a four course “tasting menu”, or a six course “Farmer’s Feast”, inspired by the week’s harvest. There are also two seating areas, the main dining room or the garden (weather permitting). It is located just 45 minutes from NYC.
- Pirogue Grille- With all of their food and ingredients locally sourced, the chefs at also make their own ice cream, stocks, sauces and breads from scratch. You also get to watch the kitchen staff through an archway. Yup, they are that confident in their preparation.
- Cinque Terre- This is the best example of restaurant involvement with the farm where they get their ingredients. All of the restaurant staff pitches in with planting and harvesting at The Karys’ Grandview Farm, which supplies 40% of the restaurants food. They get the rest of their ingredients including produce, dairy, fish and livestock from local sources. The head chef Lee Skawinski also takes the kitchen staff and servers to Italy at least twice a year. They meet growers and learn about the production methods.