What Does Farm To Table Mean?

I was recently asked what Farm-To-Table meant to me, and of course, my first answer was simple. Sustainability. But let’s ask Wikipedia what it thinks. Wikipedia defines “farm to table” as:

“Farm-to-table (or farm-to-fork) refers to the stages of the production of food: harvesting, storage, processing, packaging, sales, and consumption.[1] Farm-to-table also refers to a movement concerned with producing food locally and delivering that food to local consumers. Linked to the local food movement, the movement is promoted by some in the agriculture, food service, and restaurant communities. It may also be associated with organic farming initiatives, sustainable agriculture, and community-supported agriculture.

Farm To Table As a Lifestyle

I grew up in Scotland, so Farm-To table there was not a trend, but a lifestyle. We lived in a small village named Killearn, length of 12 miles, population just over 1700, and no, we did not have a grocery store. We had a butcher where we bought our meat from the local farmers (cows and sheep could be viewed from my bedroom window). The butcher shop often had pheasant and other foul hanging which they would clean for you and send away with the normal warning to “watch for buckshot”. A few doors down was the Fruit & Nut shop, which as you can imagine, had the produce that you would need as well as a variety of grains and of course, you guessed it, nuts. The produce was quite limited, as it came from the local farms, not many people did imports to the little town…For our bread, of course we moved onto the Baker, where it was obvious that the bread was baked fresh daily, on occasion they would have some local farm cheese, but our favorite place for cheese was I.J Mellis on Great Western Road in Glasgow. This is one of those shops that you can barely stand to be in as the smell is so pungent, but the selection of cheeses (over 80% of which were from Scotland was unbelievable. They would often shave off pieces of cheese from gigantic wheels for you to taste, and so inevitably, you would end of with 2 lbs more of cheese than you originally intended. Don’t get me wrong, we did have a “Grocery store”, but it was about a 30 minute drive, so we would take the trek once or twice per week to pick up the “necessities”.

We often traveled to Europe for the summer, my parents were big fans of renting homes in the country side of France, Italy and Spain for us to retreat to. I came from a family who’s whole world was about food, and after our morning routine, we would pile back into the car and drive to a nearby town to explore. We would spend the first 30 minutes trailing behind my father as he scoured every menu for the one that he was most interested in. He would become increasingly crank as he became more and more hungry, and we would tell him “Just Pick One!” and he would remind us that he could not make an “informed” decision until he had seen all of the menus. After lunch, we would head to the local markets to look at their offerings of bread, produce, cheese and any fun meats, charcuteries or pates. We would stock up and go onto our afternoon activities of either more exploration or heading back to the house for games of boules, croquet, swimming and reading (No television allowed during these family holiday’s). The evenings, my mother would prepare platters of the vegetables, meats, breads and cheeses which we had purchased earlier, and we would eat and play cards until it was time for bed. These are some of my fondest memories of my childhood, and that is where I believe my passion and understanding of farm to table is rooted.

local village in scotland

(Killearn Main Street)

The Slow Food Movement

My personal belief is that Farm to table is explained in the life I describe above. It is not a trend as it has become in the past 10 years, it is going back to the way that things were before the world became wrapped up in making everything faster and more efficient. The Slow Food movement is embracing the old world way of cooking. Having relationships with your farmers, knowing their names and where they grow their produce. How their animals are treated, and how the daily world events affect their produce and livestock. You cannot rely on anything with Farm to table cooking, as sometimes crops are wiped out by a disease, or the rain caused the farmers to have an inability to harvest, or even preventing them to come to the farmers market. So what happens then to a Farm to Table restaurant? You have to think, and think fast of another dish to replace the one that you are now unable to sell. We recently put a morel dish on our menu which, since the day we printed it, we have been unable to sell. The mushrooms are locally foraged and the surprise day of rain which came to us last week, caused the morels to get moldy (thank you el nino). Our Chef is not quite ready to take them off the menu yet though…he is too excited about the dish and is praying that the next crop will make it through this dry spell we have had.

Farm To Table For Restaurants

When I asked my husband, Executive Chef of Martins West Gastropub, Micheal Dotson, what he thought about farm to table for restaurants, this is what he said:

“If you really think about it, Farm to Table it is a marketing term coined by the restaurant industry to easily explain to the general public what they are serving is better than most or others. When I was a young cook up and down California and France, getting out ingredients from near by farms and ranches was just how we did it. I did work in smaller independently owned restaurants with a certain pedigree but it was understood, not talked about but independent farmers and ranches that only raised or grew a few different things with respect for the animals and earth, in turn produced far more delicious vegetables and meats. They or we never spoke about organic, sustainable or farm to table. We all were a minority that wanted to  be associate with high quality ingredients. Today for me, farm to table means almost nothing, everyone is using the term. I continue to look for farmers, ranchers and growers that have the delicious mind set. They want grow something that tastes great and that will intrinsically mean, crop, field and pasture rotation, as well as preservation or sustainable management of their land.”
You can not make truly quality food without truly quality ingredients, and the closer the ingredients are to you and the more naturally they are produced, the better they will be. It takes much more time, much more research and a LOT more labor. But it is worth it to us to take pride in what we are serving and be able to tell you a story of where your food came from.

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