Trendspotting: Farm to Table
Updated: Jan 4, 2020
History of Farm to Table
The roots of the farm to fork trend stretch back to the 1960s and 70s when Americans became increasingly dissatisfied with processed foods that they found bland. One of the first farm to table restaurants that opened up was Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California in 1971. Chez Panisse was opened by Chef Alice Waters, who wanted to use produce from local organic farms because it was more flavorful and fresh than produce used by other restaurants.Chez Panisse became very successful, and the farm to table movement began to grow steadily during the late decades of the 20th century. But, the movement didn't explode in popularity until the 2000s when farm to table places started to open up in cities like Boulder, Colorado and Seattle, Washington. Nowadays, you can find farm to fork restaurants in cities all across the country.
“Teaching kids how to feed themselves and how to live in a community responsibly is the center of an education.”
Alice Waters is amazing. If you haven’t heard of her, stop reading this and Google her right now. I’m serious. I’ll wait. Or, you can go to the book store right now and buy “The Art of Simple Food”. My blog will be waiting. The reason why I urge you to read this woman’s work is because it has guided my way of cooking for over 15 years. Simplicity is the key to cooking.In 2001 when I was working at Craft, in New York, I met Alice Waters. She asked to speak to the person that had made her dessert. I begged the server to ask the chef to go up to talk to her, but he told me that she insisted on talking to the person who had actually made her sorbet. Walking through a busy dining room, in my dirty uniform, made my hands shake uncontrollably. I tightly grabbed my left hand with my right in hopes to control them. People were staring at me, perhaps thinking,“Is that a chef?” and “no” is the answer. I was a pastry cook, big difference.At this point in time I had never heard the name Alice Waters, I just knew that she wanted to speak to me. She took my hand and shook it, looked into my eyes and said, “Thank you.” I nervously laughed and told her that she was welcome. She went on to tell me that she had never tasted sorbet that was truer in flavor and that the strawberry tasted exactly like a ripe strawberry. I told her that the secret was only using 10% sugar, and that we got our strawberries from a nearby farm in upstate New York. She thanked me again and I retreated back into the basement. (For all of you people who don’t know, most New York kitchens are in the basement of the buildings, so that means your server is running up and down stairs to bring you your food, please tip generously.) As I reached the kitchen I was approached by my sous chef, “What’s she like?” I really had no idea how to respond, “She’s nice, who is she?” He was a little shocked and replied, “Seriously? Alice Waters? She’s basically the founder of the farm-to-table movement!” I really had no idea, but thought, “That’s pretty cool.”
Pros of Farm to Table:
The farm to table movement has had a huge impact on the foodservice industry and how we source and prepare food. Here are some of the main benefits of farm to table: it helps to boost the local economy and support local farmers. Because farm to table restaurants deal directly with the farmer, you can be sure that the money spent is going directly to helping farmers grow their businesses and fuel the local economy. Both you and farmer benefit from farm to table; you gets delicious and fresh produce, the farmer gets recognition for their hard work as well as guaranteed business. Additionally, farm to table restaurants that have a close relationship with one particular farm can usually request that they plant certain foods. Serving farm to table food is an excellent way to make local and organic food more available to your community. Working locally can also help the environment. The produce doesn't have to be shipped long distances, meaning less time on a truck and fewer greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere.
Are there cons?
The farm to table movement isn't perfect. One drawback is having to change your menu with the seasons. As the seasons change, different foods will be available in farms, and we have to adapt to what produce is available and fresh. Some restaurants have taken advantage of the buzzword for their own gain by claiming to be farm to table without actually using local ingredients. It is very expensive to run a local and organic farm while competing with mega farms, and as a result, their produce costs a premium. Cows, pigs, and fish are especially expensive to raise, so you're going to pay a large sum for authentic farm to fork meat and seafood. To make a profit, many farm to fork operations have to offer their food at a higher price to cover the high cost of the produce. While this may not be an issue in larger cities like New York City and Los Angeles, the price may put off customers in suburban or rural settings.
In my opinion, benefits far outweigh any drawback. Buying locally can sometimes cost a little more. I believe that these costs are worth the price. I would rather spend $1.00 more a pound for carrots, knowing that they have come from the Willamette Valley, because I know the money is going back into our community. Shopping at First Alternative Co-Op gives me peace of mind because I can choose from a variety of local farms to gather the freshest produce and meats.