Farm-to-table (or farm-to-fork, and in some cases farm-to-school) is a social movement which promotes serving local food at restaurants and school cafeterias, preferably through direct acquisition from the producer (which might be a winery, brewery, ranch, fishery, or other type of food producer which is not strictly a "farm"). This might be accomplished by a direct sales relationship, a community-supported agriculture arrangement, a farmer's market, a local distributor or by the restaurant or school raising its own food. Farm-to-table often incorporates a form of food traceability (celebrated as "knowing where your food comes from") where the origin of the food is identified to consumers. Often restaurants cannot source all the food they need for dishes locally, so only some dishes or only some ingredients are labelled as local.
Participants in the movement also often reject other conventional or "commodity" agricultural practices, embrace sustainable agriculture, organic farming, free range animal husbandry, and fair trade; and oppose genetically modified food and treatment of animals with antibiotics and hormones merely to make them grow faster.
The farm-to-table movement has arisen more or less concurrently with changes in attitudes about food safety, food freshness, food seasonality, and small-farm economics. Advocates and practitioners of the farm-to-table model frequently cite as their motivations the scarcity of fresh, local ingredients; the poor flavor of ingredients shipped from afar; the poor nutritional integrity of shipped ingredients; the encroachment of genetically modified foods into the food supply; the disappearance of small family farms; the disappearance of heirloom and open-pollinated fruits and vegetables; and the dangers of a highly centralized food growing and distribution system.
History and influences
Among the first vocal and influential farm-to-table businesses were: Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California, Herbfarm in Washington, Bon Appétit Management Company based in Palo Alto, California, and The Kitchen in Boulder, Colorado. Since the 2000s, the number of farm-to-table operations has grown rapidly.
Many farm-to-table advocates cite the works of Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, Michael Pollan, John Jeavons, Alice Waters (of Chez Panisse), Joel Salatin, Barbara Kingsolver, Erik Manning and others in their preference for the freshest ingredients and in their attempts to educate their customers about the link between farmers, farm communities, and ancient food-production practices.
Investigations by journalists at the Tampa Bay Times and San Diego Magazine found widespread fraud in the claims made by area farm-to-table restaurants about where the food they were serving came from. Cases included: restaurant previously bought from that provider but has since switched without updating the menu; restaurant claims to buy from a farmer, but the farmer denies ever having sold to that restaurant; restaurant serving a type of food the cited farmer or fisher has never grown or caught or which is currently out of season or not being provided; restaurant claiming to serve food from a provider which has gone out of business years ago; food from the claimed source makes up only a small portion of the type of food on the plate. In cases where fraudulent claims are being made, the food actually being served is usually non-local or even "commodity" food which is cheaper or more available out-of-season. In some cases food claimed to be "wild caught", "preservative-free", "made in-house", "Fresh from Florida", or "Long Island duck" was not. Such practices open restaurants to lawsuits from the farmer whose name is being used fraudulently, lawsuits from consumers who have purchased mislabelled food products, and enforcement actions by government agencies. Tampa Bay Times food critic and investigative reporter Laura Reiley attributes fraud in part to the rise of the farm-to-table trend since 2012, the lack of time of restaurants to deal directly with farms whereas they normally would deal with one or two large distributors, and in some cases sheer profit motive.
In contrast with molecular gastronomy
Recently, some food and agriculture writers have begun to describe a philosophical divide among chefs: the "food-as-art", or, in some cases, "molecular gastronomy" camp, including Ferran Adrià and Grant Achatz have increasingly focused on "food made strange", in which the ingredients are so transformed as to be surprising and even unrecognizable in the final food product. The farm-to-table chefs, on the other hand, have increasingly come to rely upon extremely fresh ingredients that have been barely modified, sometimes presented raw just a few feet from where they grew. Generally, the farm-to-table chefs rely on traditional farmhouse cooking, and may refer to their preparations as "vernacular food" or "peasant food", with its emphasis on freshness, seasonality, local availability, and simple preparations.
Notable farm-to-table chefs
- The Farm-to-Table Founding Fathers (profile of The Kitchen founders)
- "Farm to Fable: A Times investigation into Tampa Bay's local food scene". Tampa Bay Times. 15 April 2016.
- Troy Johnson (24 June 2015). "Farm to Fable: Deception, fraud, and honest mistakes in the farm-to-table movement". San Diego Magazine.
- New Mexico Farm to Table website
- An online marketplace and community for producers and consumers of local food
- Foodwaze, a web search engine and app listing restaurants certified serving sustainable and local food
- How to tell if your ‘local’ food is actually local