Heading out for lunch with some friends? Maybe looking for a nice evening out on the town? Wondering which restaurant to visit for dinner? No matter where you are, there are sure to be at least a few to choose from. How do you prioritize one over the other? And what criteria should you be looking for that would make you visit one restaurant while skipping another?
There are plenty of criteria you could use. You could evaluate restaurants based on recommendations from friends. You could search for reviews online. You could see if they have a menu online and browse that for dishes that look tasty. Or you could review their practices as a restaurant and see who runs the most ethical, responsible, and community supportive business. In particular you could look for restaurants that are specifically farm-to-table.
What Is Farm-To-Table?
Even if this is a term you haven’t heard before, it isn’t one that’s difficult to understand. It is exactly what it sounds like: a restaurant that serves farm fresh food.
Of course every restaurant technically serves food from farms. Farm-to-table restaurants take this one step further, however. They’re committed to supporting local farms and producers. They’re also committed to cutting out the middleman.
Think of large chain restaurants for example. Many of them purchase their food through suppliers that heavily process the food before it arrives at the restaurant and before it ends up on your plate. While not every large chain is guilty of this, a great many of them are. Not only does this result in food that’s less natural and less healthy, but it also fails to support the local farmers in your area.
There are no set rules that a restaurant must meet to claim that it serves farm-to-table food. In most cases however, they’ll proudly name the farm or farms they receive products from. Additionally, most farm-to-table restaurants support naturally grown foods as opposed to farms that use harmful pesticides or added hormones. If a restaurant claiming to be farm-to-table is not willing to supply sourcing information, this may be a reason to double check their claim.
Is Farm-To-Table More Complicated?
It’s true that farm-to-table restaurants typically have a few more hurdles to overcome than other restaurants. Rather than seeing these as obstacles, however, restaurant owners who are passionate about this decision see them merely as challenges to help them become a better restaurant than their competitors.
In many cases, this means that the menu at a farm-to-table restaurant will likely change with the seasons. And this will not just be 4 times a year, but much more often as the “growing seasons” for different items doesn’t simply follow the four seasons of the year. Since they aren’t purchasing products from major distributors they might not have access to certain products all year round. That’s because they’re using what’s available around them, and supporting the local crops and animal products as they are produced, instead of receiving imports from the other side of the country or world.
For many restaurant owners, running a farm-to-table restaurant means more work on their part. They’ll need to put in the time and effort to ensure their restaurant, as well as their community partners, are abiding by state and federal laws regarding farming, animal slaughtering, and fishing. They need to ensure that all food is safe and inspected. They need to take the time to develop rock-solid working relationships with local farmers, suppliers, and fishers.
Above all, farm-to-table restaurants need to find the time to process their own food. They’re receiving (in most cases) the raw ingredients from their suppliers, meaning they’re the ones doing the work to turn it into delicious food.
As you can see, running a farm-to-table restaurant is not an easy task. You might then wonder why a chef or a business owner would choose to open this type of restaurant? Why not receive their food from mega suppliers instead, if that’s so much easier?
While there are plenty of answers to this question, the simplest one is that a farm-to-table restaurant is much more beneficial to you, the customer.
10 Ways You Experience The Farm-To-Table Difference
The benefits you’ll experience when eating farm-to-table are endless and there are too many to list here. For just a start, here are our top reasons for eating at a farm-to-table restaurant.
1. Enjoy Fresh Foods
Have you ever eaten something only to realize you could tell it had been frozen or packaged? Restaurants are quite adept at covering these tell-tale flavors up with extra bells and whistles. If you frequently eat in a major chain restaurant you may not even notice anymore.
When you eat fresh, however, you’ll notice the difference right away. Farm-to-table flavors practically explode in your mouth, bursting with freshness and vibrancy.
According to Local Harvest the average commute for fruits and vegetables in the U.S. is 1500 miles. For that reason, commercially grown fruits and vegetables are engineered to withstand travel over long distances. Local food travels a fraction of that distance and still maintains the appearance, taste, and nutrients without any bioengineering.
A farm-to-table restaurant has more freedom to let flavors stand on their own instead of covering them up in extras. Once you start eating this way, you’ll never want to go back to eating processed artificial flavors.
2. Eat Natural Ingredients
All around us the news and media bombard us with horror stories about all the dangers that come with eating heavily processed and chemically produced food. From growth hormone packed meat to chemically tainted dairy products just visiting the grocery store can be scary. Everyone wants to stay healthy and keep their family safe. While that’s easy enough at home when you’re doing the cooking and you know exactly what ingredients you’re using, it gets harder when you eat out.
Farm-to-table restaurants eliminate this fear. You can be sure that the ingredients in your meal are locally and responsibly produced. In most cases, these restaurants will actively advertise their supplies and answer any questions you have about where the ingredients came from. Chances are you won’t even have to ask, as these places are usually eager to share, and will have information available on their website.
3. Experience Better Nutrition
The disturbing thing about eating heavily processed or treated food is that many of us are so used to eating it that we don’t even notice it. We grow used to feeling heavy and even sluggish. Our health suffers but we barely even notice.
The difference when you start eating fresh foods is unbelievable. Your health will improve, your body will become more alert and active. This is all thanks to the better nutrition you’ll begin to experience as you fuel your body with fresh foods instead of processed ones.
4. Take a Stand for the Environment
There are so many reasons why eating locally grown food is better for the earth. For starters, your food doesn’t need to be transported as far, leading to fewer emissions and less fuel consumed overall. Additionally, you’re actively choosing not to support enormous plants and mass producers that spread pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals. You’re also taking a stand against unethical farming practices that harm the earth, the plants, and the animals on it….and eventually us.
5. Support Your Local Economy
These days it isn’t hard to see how more and more industries are being monopolized by huge corporations. Online retailers push out small local stores. Fast food chains push out local restaurants. And mass food producers across the country may even push out local farmers.
But your money shows your support. When you buy from local businesses you’re putting your money back into the local economy and doing your part to help it flourish. By eating at a local restaurant you’re giving it the money to stay in business and keep serving your community. If you eat at a farm-to-table restaurant, it, in turn, can keep supporting local farmers and producers who can continue producing delicious and healthy food for you. The cycle continues and everyone benefits.
6. Be a Good Role Model
Whether or not you’re a parent, it’s important to remember that children are always watching us. Whether it’s your own children, nieces, nephews, cousins, family friends, or just kids who happen to be at a store or farmer’s market and see you. If they see you setting a good example in caring for the earth, caring about your health, and supporting local businesses, then these are the kind of practices they’ll subconsciously want to model. In doing this, we can all do our part to raise a generation of responsible citizens.
7. Feel Confident in Knowing Where Your Food Came From
We have all seen the video clips, documentaries, and pictures of enormous warehouses and slaughterhouses where chickens are raised in tiny boxes or where food is being processed in giant vats of slime. With images like these in the back of the mind, it can be frightening to buy packaged food or eat out at a restaurant.
Farm-to-table offers the advantage of showing where your food comes from. You can feel confident in knowing exactly where your food was sourced, how it was produced, and how it ended up at this restaurant and on your plate.
8. Choose From Huge Varieties of Food
Locally sourced restaurants get to take advantage of the wide range of crops and livestock being produced nearby. This depends on the specific community, of course, but for most farm-to-table restaurants this gives them access to fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, fish, dairy products, and much more. None of this variety is sacrificed by choosing locally grown and produced foods any more than it would be from a bigger restaurant.
9. Take Advantage of Menus That Change With the Seasons
When a restaurant draws its ingredients from the surrounding farmers and producers, this means that they’ll largely be dependent on what’s available during certain seasons. This can lead to a menu that rotates with the seasons allowing certain dishes and treats to be available only for limited amounts of time. For the adventurous eater, it’s always fun to see what new and exciting dishes the restaurant will be offering,
While your initial reaction may be to find this irritating, it can also be enjoyable and fun. Imagine if there is a delicious fall salad that was only available for a few months of the year. Think of what a fun tradition it could be to visit the restaurant at least once during the fall every year to take advantage of the beautiful fresh ingredients as you order this salad. It can be a treat to look forward to all year long.
10. Encourage Ethical Responsibility
Everyday, animals are being raised genetically modified and kept in horrifying conditions around the globe, all in the name of meeting the demands of giant corporations, restaurants, and food suppliers. These practices persist because so many people are unaware of them. Even for people who are aware, they may do nothing because they believe “I’m just one person. What can I do to change things?”
But the truth is that everyone of us has a voice and has the power to effect change. While one of us might not be able to speak very loudly alone, together our voices can become very loud indeed. That’s why it’s important to support restaurants that are sourcing their food ethically and responsibly.
Farm-to-table restaurants may not be the perfect solution to all factory farming problems but they are a start in the right direction that you can easily take today.
If you’re looking for a tasty and healthy farm-to-table restaurant on Hilton Head (and soon in Bluffton) stop by Nectar Farm Kitchen. Here at Nectar Farm Kitchen, we see so many reasons to use local Lowcountry ingredients. Not only do we have some of the best local foods for you to taste, but we also see it as a way to support local businesses right here in the Lowcountry. We’re passionate about providing you with the most delicious and healthy dining experience possible, and we see the farm-to-table method as the best way of doing that.