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Farm to Table: A Movement for Local and Organic Food

The farm to table movement has been growing for years, and since its beginning, people have wondered if it's simply a passing fad or a new mainstay in the restaurant industry. Years later, farm to table is still going strong, so we can safely assume that it's here to stay. Because of its incredible growth and popularity, it's important that restaurant owners understand what the farm to table movement is, its history, and the pros and cons of opening a farm to table establishment.

What is Farm to Table?

Farm to table, also known as farm to fork, can be defined as a social movement where restaurants source their ingredients from local farms, usually through direct acquisition from a farmer. Most traditional restaurants get their produce from other parts of the country or around the world. These ingredients need to be shipped long distances, and as a result, they are usually picked before they are ripe to lengthen their lifespan, or they are frozen to prevent spoiling. All of this results in food that is bland and less nutritious.

On the other hand, farm to fork restaurants get their food from local farms, so the food is picked at peak freshness and is bursting with flavors and vitamins. Because the produce is usually very flavorful, many farm to table operations don't dress their food up with complex sauces and overpowering flavors, instead preferring to let the freshness and flavor of the food speak for itself.

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.

Pros and Cons of Farm to Table

The farm to fork movement has come a long way since Alice Waters first opened Chez Panisse. It's now one of the fastest growing food trends in the U.S., but it has its downsides as well. Here we'll break down the pros and cons of farm to fork and it's impact on the restaurant industry.

Pros of Farm to Table:

The farm to table movement has had a huge impact on the foodservice industry and how restaurants source and prepare their food. Here are some of the main benefits of farm to fork:

  • Farm to fork 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 the restaurant and farmer benefit from farm to table. The restaurant gets delicious and fresh produce, and the farmer gets recognition for their hard work as well as guaranteed business. Additionally, farm to fork restaurants that have a close relationship with one particular farm can usually request that they plant certain foods.
  • Serving farm to table food at your restaurant is an excellent way to make local and organic food more available to your community.
  • Farm to fork is an extremely popular trend, and associating your restaurant with the trend can help bring in customers and create excitement about your menu.
  • It can 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.

Cons of Farm to Table:

The farm to fork movement isn't perfect, and in recent years, people have grown increasingly skeptical of establishments that claim to serve farm to table food. So before you decide to open a farm to table restaurant, here are some things to think about:

  • If you're planning on opening a farm to fork restaurant, you'll have to constantly change your menu. As the seasons change, different foods will be available in farms, and you'll have to adapt to what produce is available and fresh.
  • There is a lot of money to be made in farm to table, and some restaurants have taken advantage of the buzzword for their own gain by claiming to be farm to table without actually using local ingredients. In 2016, the Tampa Bay Times released a series of articles about how many farm to table restaurants were using frozen and non-local meats and produce. Since then, there has been more skepticism about the authenticity of restaurants that claim to be farm to table.
  • One of the many reasons that restaurants lie about serving farm to table is the high cost. 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.

Farm to table started out as an offshoot of the hippie movement on the West Coast in the 1960s and 70s, but it has since grown into a worldwide phenomenon that doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. And while some restaurants have abused the farm to table name for their own gain, many restaurateurs are using farm to table to give credit to hardworking farmers and bring fresh and delicious food to the general population.

Posted in: Eco-Friendly Tips | Foodservice Trends | By Richard Traylor
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