Here's the Deal with Farm-to-Table
This concept may be trendy, but it’s also a great way to learn where your food comes from.
The term "farm-to-table" may seem ubiquitous in regards to restaurants, but what does it actually mean? Farm-to-table dining is a quippy way of explaining to diners that restaurants prioritize where their food is grown, often sourcing directly from farms, rather than through distribution companies.
Sure, some restaurants use it as marketing lingo, but most true farm-to-table restaurants form relationships with farmers and feature their seasonal produce and sometimes their poultry, beef, pork or dairy. On their menus, chefs will often cite the farms where the products came from and sometimes tell bigger stories about the farmers.
Here are a few different ways restaurants are interpreting the farm-to-table concept, and suggestions on how to eat this way at home as well.
Chef Erling Wu-Bower is no stranger to farm-to-table dining — it’s the way he cooks. His menu at Pacific Standard Time in Chicago contains a long list of farmers he works with. But for him it’s not just about naming the farmers; it’s about forging connections.
"Farm-to-table is about developing meaningful relationships with farmers,” he says. “You get better ingredients, but it's also good for what I call your cooking soul — as you learn how farmers live, what their day-to-day is like, you inevitably become a more understanding and sensitive cook. The life of a farmer and the life of a chef are so different. By taking a step back, we all become better cooks."
For the home cook, he suggests, “Talking to farmers at your local farmers market, or visiting a farm near where you live, is a great way to get you closer to their products personally.” Indeed, head to a true farmers market and you'll likely spot chefs inspecting greens, tasting fruits and plotting nightly specials of farm-to-table dishes.
You can experiment with different produce in dishes like Farmers Market Flatbread, or any of these summer stunners. You can also ask the farmers you buy from for suggestions on how they would prep dishes.
Farm-to-Table on the Farm
At Hickory Nut Gap, 20 minutes from Asheville, North Carolina, farm-to-table dining can actually happen right on the farm. The farm raises pastured chicken and pork and grass-fed beef. At its deli and bakery, you can enjoy these things alongside locally grown produce, in dishes like the Cubano: smoked ham, pulled pork shoulder, housemade pickles and North Carolina Lusty Monk mustard on Cuban bread.
“Our definition of farm-to-table is our mission, ‘building community through agriculture,’” says Hickory Nut Gap founder Jamie Ager. “We know that healthy soils mean healthy people and healthy communities. Respect for the health of the whole ecosystem builds awareness and makes the food experience better because it builds connection,” he adds. “Humane animal treatment, rotationally grazed grasses and building connections with our farmers bring much-needed connection between consumers and their food.”
For the home chef, subscribing to a CSA or visiting nearby farms and getting to know the farmers will help you cook a farm-to-table meal.
Not all restaurants are lucky enough to be situated on a farm, but recently there has been a movement for restaurants to have their own urban farms. Whether they're growing rooftop herbs or a more prolific vegetable garden, many restaurants are trying to add elements to their dishes that they've cultivated themselves.
Growing a garden at home can help you get produce at its peak freshness, too.