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Do you know where your food comes from? Most of us would purchase food and other commodities from the market or supermarket and never think about where it came from. In the 1900s in the US, fruits and vegetables as well as meet would come from a farm a few miles away. Today, the modern developments in transportation, imports, and exports have drastically changed the landscape of food sourcing.
In this article, we introduce the farm-to-table movement and the concept of food traceability or simply knowing where your food comes from. We also touch on the benefits, challenges, and reasons why we should advocate for this movement.
What is farm-to-table or farm-to-fork?
Farm to table is a social movement of bringing food from the farm to your table or to the consumer. A consumer may be a family, a community, or a restaurant. It is a movement to support the local farms, may it be a fruits and vegetable farm or any other produce.
Food has to start somewhere, and the farm-to-table movement encourages sourcing food from where it is locally grown. This concept seems logical and like any other concept, there are both benefits and challenges.
Farm-to-table Movement History in the United States
The improvement in technology and innovation in food welcomed the era of packaged food and goods in the 1950s. These were popularized by the convenient processed foods packed in cans and the microwaveable single-serving frozen dinners that became rampant in the 1960s. The change began in the 1970s when supporters of local and organic food came alive and began influencing the way people thought about food in the States.
Alice Waters, an American chef, humanitarian, and food activist opened the legendary Chez Panisse in 1971. Her restaurant in California is known for its natural and locally grown ingredients. She believes that organic foods and clean cooking are both better for the environment and for people’s health in addition to tasting better than commercially grown, non-organic foods. She realized this ideals upheld by her well-celebrated restaurant Chez Panisse.
This opened up the movement establishing non-profit organizations advocating for organically grown produce such as the one in Oregon. People continued to demand local, fresh, naturalfood, and farmers markets continued to grow by the 1990s. And the rest is history. Food consciousness continues to evolve today as we see more sustainable movements in food production and consumption.
In more recent years, there has been a lot of farm-to-table restaurants opening up in the country in cities like Boulder, Colorado, New York City, and Seattle, Washington.
Before deciding on whether or not you want to support the farm-to-table movement, it is good to gain a better understanding of how we commonly gain access to food.
Rutgers defines a food system to include everything from farm to table. A community food system is a food system in which food production, processing, distribution, and consumption are integrated to enhance the environmental, economic, social, and nutritional health of a particular place.
Farm to table is achieved by:
- Creating direct sales relationship with the food producer often in farms. Instead of purchasing from distributors or a certain service, restaurants establish direct involvement with local farms and buy directly from them. The restaurant enjoys better quality and fresh vegetables and creating a nutritious menu to enjoy by the public.
- Having an agriculture agreement supported by communities
- By supporting the local farmer’s market
- Responsibility upheld by a local restaurant, schools, or institutions growing their own food
Rutgers outlines the four driving forces behind the growth of the farm-to-table or farm-to fork model.
The farm-to-table model increases food security to move the focus beyond the needs of individual units to communities as a whole while focusing on low-income households. This is accomplished by developing local food systems.
The operations of farm to fork operates under the idea to have food systems existing in close proximity and developing relationships between all stakeholders (from producers, retailers, up to the restaurants or consumers). This is achieved by tapping into the local farmers and restaurants, as well as the inhabitants. In addition, the system also reduces environmental impact of the traditional practice we have.
Farm to table aims to encourage communities to meet their own produce needs to remove the reliance from outside resources or transportation of resources from far away places. This principle empowers local farms and farmers to produce good quality goods for the growth of the society.
Patronizing farm to table food and establishments moves towards the goal of sustainability or existing without compromising existing resources making them available for future generations.
Benefits of Farm-to-table
Here are a few of the many benefits you can experience with patronizing farm-to-table.
Can help boost the local economy and support local farmers. Farm-to-table can help build relationships between the farmer and their consumers. It can also help consumers or people build a healthy relationship with their food.
It also livens small-farm economics as well as the local community. The money goes to the local small-scale farmer instead of a large commercial operation farm further supporting sustainability in farming. Supporting the local farm also lead to more jobs.
Environment benefits. Not having to ship produce long distances meaning less trucks producing greenhouse gas emissions resulting in pollution. When the farm-to-table model is used, the transport systems like planes, trains, trucks, or boats are discarded from the equation altogether. Fresh produce travels from the farm directly to the restaurant or to homes.
Data from the United States Department of Agriculture also links improved soil quality with small-scale farms by planting a diverse variety of plants in turn decreasing pests and reducing the number of pesticides used. This is generally good news for future generations and the health of the environment.
Having food shipped for long periods of time often results in sub-par quality produce having poor flavor.
Farm-to-fork also addresses the dangers of highly centralized food growing and distribution operation. By producing locally sourced ingredients, the community builds an attitude of self-reliance and food security to free up the dependence toward outside resources.
Challenges of Farm-to-table
This social movement has idealistic goals and doesn’t come without the challenges.
One of the challenges faced by this movement is coping with seasonal food ingredients which means constantly changing restaurant menus to what is available. Often, restaurants cannot source all dish ingredients locally, so only some ingredients are labeled as local.
On the flip side, this challenge boosts creativity and innovation for chefs.
Can be more expensive to run a local and organic farm while competing with big commercial farms. The heightened price range can be off-putting to suburban or rural consumers. Meat especially can be expensive to raise so eating out at restaurants tend to be on the pricy side.
Why we should support farm-to-table restaurants
Despite these challenges both for farmers and the patrons, we should still be open to supporting our local farm-to-table restaurants. Each establishment is committed to serving farm-fresh dishes and are committed to supporting and empowering local farms and producers growing naturally grown produce.
Food Waste Awareness
According to a paper by Claremont, the most environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable way to reduce the impacts of food waste is to eliminate it at the source. With the mechanization of food production, a lot of produce are wasted uneaten and ends up in landfills. It is not only an issue of food wastage but also other resources like energy, soil, and water.
By encouraging a restaurant business to purchase and consume a realistic amount with chefs preparing well-planned menus, this issue can be minimized.
Most patrons would gladly shoulder the expense of eating a menu of humanely raised meat and poultry. Supporting farm-to-fork establishments means you are taking a stand and making that choice to support a cause you believe in.
Misuse of the farm to fork label
However, there is also a misuse of the farm-to-table food term. Some restaurants would use the term to create a false image of practicing social responsibility even though they are not. Restaurants must be transparent and accountable. The menu should be able to advertise the farms or farmers the produce were sourced from.
Future and trend of the farm-to-table movement
According to the statistics from the USDA analyzed by Upserve, the population in the US is continuously growing while the number of farms dwindle. To cope with this trend, the average farm size has significantly increased supplemented by the use of machines in large-scale farming.
However, the unforeseen negative environmental and health effects of conventional large-scale monoculture farming is slowly being realized together with the population’s demand for organic options, vegetable-based diets, and quality produce. The business of farming will have to adapt.