Farm to Table: Laying the Foundation For Our Futures

Farm to table

If you’ve been interested in how to sustainably source the food that you eat, you’ve likely come across the term Farm to Table. Farm to Table can be defined as the social movement where restaurants source their ingredients directly from local farms rather than going through a third party like grocery stores or markets.

Most traditional restaurants receive their produce from parts of the country or globe which requires long distance shipping. This mode of transportation can result in either picking the produce before it is ripe or freezing it to prevent it from spoiling. Ultimately, the food becomes bland and far less nutritious. It also doesn’t help the environment out too much.

The roots of the Farm to Table movement trace back to the 1960s and 70s when Americans were increasingly dissatisfied with processed foods they found to be bland and unsatisfactory. In 1971, Chez Panisse was opened up by Chef Alice Waters in Berkeley, California and became the first restaurant that proudly touted itself as a Farm to Table dining experience.

Because Waters was sourcing produce from local organic farms, the food was picked at peak freshness and captured its full flavor and nutritional value. For this reason, many farm to table operations today don’t actually dress their food up with complex sauces and flavors. Rather, they allow the freshness of the food to speak for itself. With the movement finally exploding in the early 2000s, farm to table restaurants started opening up in major cities like Boulder, Colorado and Seattle, Washington and have since been opened in most cities across the country.

One of the fastest growing food trends in the US, the farm to table movement has had a major impact on the foodservice industry, revolutionizing the way restaurants source and prepare their food. This economic partnership allows for both the restaurant and farmer to benefit from the movement as restaurants get delicious and fresh produce while the farmers get recognition for their hard work and guaranteed business. Some restaurants who maintain a close relationship with particular farms can also request certain foods or get input on what will be freshest during the year, allowing for a varied and seasonable menu.

The main motivators behind the Farm to Table movement can be distilled to these four points: food security, proximity, self-reliance, and sustainability.

The increased scope of food security allows for a look into the larger community’s food needs with a special focus on low-income households. Rather than focusing solely on the food needs of individuals or families, Farm to Table implements a strategic goal of developing local food systems and providing more accessibility and certainty. This is often why the Farm to Table movement is considered a social one as it shifts focus from those in middle to upper class modules of society and recognizes the equal necessity for food across class divisions. Helping to eliminate poor health within lower-income communities, Farm to Table can provide a more accessible option for healthful eating.

Ideally, the various components of the food system should exist within close proximity to one another, reinforcing the development of relationships between various stakeholders in the food system including farmers, processors, retailers, restaurateurs, and consumers. The closeness of proximity allows for a reduced environmental impact where transported ingredients do not need to cross state lines or countries, and forges a stronger community bond. While packaged goods sell us the idea of accessibility and convenience, Farm to Table offers an alternative that can actually give back to those within the community who are often hit hardest by corporate food systems.

The self-reliance component of the Farm to Table movement encourages communities to generate the means to meet their own food needs, eliminating the need for outside resources. This helps to strengthen the community’s tie to one another while cultivating a relationship to the earth on which they dwell. It also eliminates the lack of knowledge that accompanies packaged goods. Many of us have with little to no understanding of where our food is coming from. But with the proper education and relationships, communities can reap the benefits of an accessible food source armed with nutritional value.

And lastly, the core idea of the movement as a whole resides on the notion of sustainability. By establishing food systems that don’t destroy their resources in the process, future generations can rest assured that their food needs will be met without worry. The entire foundation of the movement was founded upon the population’s dissatisfaction in processed foods and the health issues that accompanied these packaged goods. Farm to Table is truly an investment in our community’s futures to ensure that food needs will not be left in the hands of corporate food systems, but rather will be accessible for the community to forge themselves.

Farm to Table efforts have even sustained themselves through the Coronavirus pandemic, stimulating a surge of clients to sign up for delivery services that work directly with farmers. While some farms have lost business from restaurants that have shut down, others found a whole new client base that cut out the middle man of the restaurateurs altogether. Even grocery stores became notoriously stressful during the panic-buying phase of the pandemic. But with more time at home spent to ponder where food can be sourced from, many individuals have felt inspired to get involved in growing their own vegetables and produce. Whether individual attempts have been successful or not is another story. But likely, with either failed attempts or just contemplation of food sourcing, an appreciation for farmers and fresh produce has soared throughout our devastating circumstances.

It still remains to be seen what habits derived from the pandemic will continue after a vaccine is underway, but perhaps the time spent learning about various hobbies or industries can help strengthen the Farm to Table movement. Distilling our everyday at home and recognizing what is truly essential within our society, the pandemic has certainly shaped the ways in which we consider our values and strengths. Even rural living has gained more recognition during this time as RV sales continue to rise, prompting families to travel around while isolating from others in a safe and sustainable way.

Ultimately, the intentions behind the Farm to Table movement have always been about sustainability, self-reliance, supporting local businesses, and promoting food security. If anything, our experience with the Coronavirus may strengthen these attributes of the movement, becoming a greater part of our everyday lives as we slowly return back to normal. Considering our history of reliance on corporate vendors and manufactured goods to have been put temporarily on hold, Farm to Table offers an alternative that can empower individuals to look out for their community members while also giving them the tools to provide essential, healthier options for their diets.

There has never been a better time to educate oneself about rural living than this current moment in history. Distilling life down to its essentials and retraining our values to include the livelihoods of local communities and self-reliance is certainly a way into the Farm to Table movement and presents an alternative future that we can all benefit from.

By Misao McGregor