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Sustainable Dining: Why You Should Support Farm-to-Table Restaurants

The farm-to-table movement has its roots dating back to the early 70s, and it’s been growing in popularity since. So perhaps, it is safe to say that this restaurant model is more than just a fleeting trend but has become a permanent fixture in the dining industry.

The farm-to-table (sometimes called “farm-to-fork”) phenomenon has come a long way since its inception. It is now more than just a business model for restaurants but can be regarded as a unique dining experience. The whole food delivery process presents advantages for communities and their families. Learn more about farm-to-table dining, its benefits, and its downside.

What Is the Farm-to-Table Restaurant Model?

Farm-to-table is the term used when referring to restaurants that get their raw ingredients directly from local farmers who work at actual farms. Traditional restaurants typically source their ingredients from different suppliers from all over the country, sometimes even from overseas. This is especially true for restaurants that specialize in exotic dishes. This entails transporting produce over long distances. Thus, preservative or processing techniques are required for food to withstand travel. The farm-to-table model eliminates these elements of freezing, processing, preserving food items, thus allowing raw ingredients to retain more nutrients.

Direct sourcing of produce from significantly shorter distances means food is prepared at its peak freshness right before being served to customers. And this is why farm-to-table menu items tend to be more flavorful. Farm-to-table cooking does not require a lot of complicated flavor enhancers because food is cooked with much of its natural flavor and freshness still intact.

This movement dates back to the early 1970s with Alice Waters’ California restaurant Chez Panisse. Waters used organically-grown produce from local farms for Chez Panisse’s menu items, making the restaurant famous for its more flavorful food as compared to traditional restaurants. Since then, more and more restaurants across the US have taken to Waters’ business model.

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What’s Good About Farm-to-Table Dining?

Farm-to-table restaurants contribute to local economies by supporting local farmers. This effectively eliminates middlemen and ensures more revenue for farmers—which then means farmers can spend more in cultivating their respective operations, which, ultimately, helps the economy of their locales.

Farm-to-table arrangements benefit both the restaurant and the farmer. The farmer-restaurant symbiosis results in fresher produce for consumers, thus success and revenue for both the restaurant and farmer. Additionally, this personalized and direct relationship allows restaurants to make special requests for farmers to plant certain crops they need.

Communities benefit from farm-to-table restaurant models because more locally-grown organic food is available to more people.

Farm-to-table food service helps the environment. Because produce does not need to be shipped over long distances, there is better fuel economy and fewer carbon footprints. Additionally, the emergence of urban farming allows for even shorter food delivery distances. Urban farmers can grow greens, mushrooms, herbs, and other fresh produce in limited city spaces through technologies such as container farming and hydroponic vertical farming systems.

Farm-to-table dining can be great teachable moments for our children. You can introduce concepts like sustainability, local economies, and healthy diet and lifestyles as they experience this dining model.

Farm-to-Table Restaurants: The Downside

One downside to farm-to-table restaurants is that these establishments will likely have modified menus over changing seasons. Restaurants operating in this business model will, of course, only be able to serve food made from what’s harvested in abundance. In other words, menus may change with the scarcity or abundance of a particular produce.

Another downside has to do with the remarkable popularity of farm-to-table restaurants. Other establishments have taken to adopting the term to their business even if they are not authentically so. In 2016, a local publication in Florida exposed a list of restaurants claiming to be “farm-to-table” when, in fact, they were using frozen, imported, or canned ingredients. This incident sparked skepticism among many consumers about other restaurants claiming to be farm-to-table.

Finally, many farm-to-table restaurants may sell dishes at higher price points. The reason behind this is simple: local, organic farms cost a lot more to operate compared to large-scale commercial farms. While this downside may not be an issue in urban cities such as LA and New York, where niche markets are more concentrated, this may not sit too well among suburban or rural consumers.

The Bottom Line

The farm-to-table restaurant model was first born in the early 1970s with Alice Waters’ visionary Chez Panisse and has since crossed borders to more regions and countries all over the world. While it’s true that some shady business entities may take advantage of the title for their false gains, authentic farm-to-table dining experiences continue to benefit many communities and families.

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