How to Eat Farm-to-Kitchen Table
When the farm-to-table topic comes up in a conversation, you probably think of an abundance of fresh produce and healthy meals. You read about it in restaurant reviews and picture generous servings of vibrant locally sourced veggies and pasture raised meats. But what does the term mean? Is it only a concept for restaurants or can a family also eat farm to table?
What Does Farm-to-Table Mean?
Farm-to-table is both a food concept and an agricultural process. It connects consumers with fresh, healthy produce and proteins. While it’s often thought of as a direct link between local farms and consumers, the movement encompasses a wide range of supplies.
The simplest definition of farm-to-table is food that moves directly from fields to commercial or home kitchens. It isn’t supplied through traditional means such as wholesale or retail vendors. However, the term isn’t regulated. The phrase farm-to-table can refer to food sourced locally from small or large operations. It can also be applied to vegetables and meats sourced through farmers markets and community agricultural projects. In general, farm-to-table means that the food on your plate was purchased directly from the grower.
Why Is Farm-to-Table Important?
The farm-to-table concept (once considered just a trend) is now recognized as an important working component of agriculture sustainability. The production involved in farm-to-table operations helps maintain environmental protections that preserve fertile fields and clean water sources.
Farm-to-table also plays a role in economic and community sustainability. It strengthens connections between growers, the food service industry, and consumers. From farmers and restaurant staff to home chefs, all are part of a process that promotes best growing practices and results in healthier food supply.
What Are the Benefits of Farm-to-Table?
While sustainability stands as one of the biggest farm-to-table benefits, there are other advantages as well. Small restaurants, commercial kitchens, and even caterers can reap these benefits and more from this specialized food service model:
- Cooperative relationships between growers and foodservice professionals
- Reliable sources for fresh, quality produce and proteins
- Greater variety and feasibility for designing healthy menus
- Access to seasonal items for planning specialty dishes
- Reduced carbon footprints especially in farm-to-table transportation
How does Farm-to-Table Fit in Home Kitchens?
Home chefs can also be a part of the farm-to-table movement. The concept remains firmly established even in large urban areas. If you’re interested in farm-to-table meal planning at home, put technology to work. Search online for farmers markets, agricultural projects, and produce growers near you.
Explore farm-to-table ideas that celebrate seasonal fruits and vegetables. Try out new recipes that make the most of farm fresh produce and proteins.
Each time you prepare a farm-to-table meal, you know you’re making a positive difference. You’re supporting a food system that benefits your family, the local economy, and the planet. That’s a great fit for every home kitchen.
Reading this you might be thinking that the farm-to-kitchen table is a great idea. It’s healthy, delicious, and sustainable, but for anyone with a job, family, and budget, it can feel a little overwhelming and unrealistic. Yet, convenience and skepticism are key factors that prevent us from embracing this way of sourcing ingredients. It is much easier and faster to go to a grocery store where everything is nicely laid out for you. But really, are you doing yourself, your children, and the planet any favors by saving time?
With a little fine tuning, everyone can shrink the span between themselves and their food even if you live in an urban area.
Here are a few simple and economical ways to bring the farm to your kitchen table.
Plant a Garden
Think you don’t have enough space? You would be amazed how much food you can grow in a small space. Square foot gardens and window box gardens can generate lots of plants and are well-suited to urban environments.
Growing your own food is about as natural as it gets. If, like many, you don’t have a large plot of land available with good dirt and just the right amount of sunlight, container gardening is an excellent alternative. The basic idea is that you plant different varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs in boxes or planters. These can be handmade or purchased at a store.
The first thing to consider is your available space. If all you have is a patio or deck then you’ll need to tailor your containers to that space. Wood boxes in a yard will give you more room to spread out. Either way, try to pick a space that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight a day.
Once you have your containers and soil (a potting mix designed for containers is a safe bet) it’s time to plant. Follow the directions on your seed package and water thoroughly. If starting from seed seems daunting, purchase and plant fruit or vegetable plants at your local store. This sometimes allows you to get more variety. It’s also a good idea to apply fertilizer regularly and keep a close eye out for weeds and pests that can affect your plants.
Then comes the fun part: the harvest! If you have children, involve them; it’s a great way to show them where their food comes from.
Pick your own produce
If the thought of tending your own garden is too intimidating, then google “pick your own produce near me” to locate farms that allow you to pick your own produce. You can choose from apple orchards to berry farms to farms that offer a wide array of different plants, produce, and meat on site. Once you find one nearby, they often offer lots of seasonal choices. Ask about what’s available in each season and plan your trips and menus accordingly.
Join a food co-op
What is a Food Co-op?
A food cooperative (or co-op, for short) is a grocery store where the shoppers have the option to buy shares in the co-op and become member-owners. The member owners can weigh in on how the co-op is to be managed, its buying practices, and what it stocks in goods. Like other cooperatives, food co-ops are administered by a set of rules that are agreed upon by the owners. Most food co-ops allow non-members to shop.
The Benefits of Joining a Food Co-op
- Fair prices: If one of your goals is to eat a farm-to-table diet on a budget (and, really, who doesn’t want that?) a food co-op might be right for you. Most food co-ops order in bulk and are able to get wholesale prices passing the savings on to their shoppers. That being said, it’s not a blanket statement that all items at a grocery co-op will be less than at a traditional grocer.
- High Standards: Whether you’re looking for organic produce, grass-fed beef, or cage-free eggs you’re likely to find it at a food co-op. Because the food-loving owners of the co-op decide what is being sold in the store, the standards are quite high compared to a traditional grocery store.
- Support Local Agriculture: Compared to conventional grocers, food co-ops have a much higher percentage of food that comes from local farmers and ranches. Most food co-ops place a priority on sourcing locally and supporting small regional farms.
- Increased Community Engagement: Because food co-ops are run by community members, whether you join one or just visit from time to time for your grocery shopping, you are automatically deepening your involvement with your local community.
Subscribe to a CSA box
CSA (community supported agriculture) represents a direct relationship between a community and its farmers. CSA programs help farms to be more financially sustainable while also providing consumers with access to fresh healthy food. In CSA, members commit to financially support the farm before the growing season, either with the payment of a one-time membership fee or a series of installments. In return, farmers provide their CSA members with an abundance of fresh products (usually in weekly boxes) during the harvest season. Many CSAs offer add-ons to their member boxes such as fresh eggs or flowers. Successful CSAs are built on mutual trust: the farmer and the community agree to share the bounty as well as the risks.
Consumers experience many benefits when choosing to subscribe to a local CSA:
- High-quality, fresh, nutritious food: CSA produce is often harvested within days or hours of delivery, meaning produce retains more nutritional value and stays fresh longer.
- A direct connection to producers: Consumers can directly ask producers about their growing practices and make choices to purchase from farmers that align with their values.
- Introduction to new varieties: CSAs offer what is plentiful and in season, which is a great way to get introduced to new crops you might not have tasted otherwise.
- Affordability: A well managed CSA can be an affordable way to provide farm-fresh products for your household, as it represents a direct relationship between the farmer and members, without the added costs of the middleman.
- Join a community: Becoming a part of a CSA connects you to like-minded consumers and allows you to participate in a more localized food system. This often includes the opportunity to participate in on-farm events to feel like a part of the farming “community” (even without owning your own farm).
Go to a farmers market
Here are a few reasons to visit a market:
- Stay healthy by eating lots of fresh produce: Farmers markets also offer good sources of protein like farm raised meats and farm fresh eggs.
- Fresh local foods: The fruits and vegetables are picked at the peak of their growing season, meaning the produce is the freshest and tastiest available.
- A wider variety: Farmers markets can offer a lot of variety, vastly different even from what you see in the grocery store. Take a chance and try a new fruit or vegetable.
- Know where your food comes from: All of the farmers at stands in your local market will be within a small radius. You can also learn some great tips and recipes from farmers and fellow patrons. The farmer will almost always have the best ways to prepare your purchases, which is wonderful when you’re trying something new and different.
- Protect the environment: Food in the U.S. travels an average 1,500 miles to get to your plate. This means high use of fuels that pollute the environment. Not only that, many big box farms use pesticides, chemicals, fertilizers, and processing equipment that can lead to environmental damage. When you buy local, your food not only travels a short distance, but it is typically grown by your local farmer using methods that minimize the impact on the earth.
- Support the local economy: By buying from farmers you are able to support local family farms giving them the capital they need to continue providing farm produce for your family and your community.
- More affordable: In many instances, locally grown foods are less expensive than grocery stores due to shorter travel and minimal processing.
Preserve peak-season produce
In-season produce will always be the most economical and flavorful choice. But storing food, whether it’s by canning, preserving, freezing, or drying, is the way to enjoy it year round. While you might think of these skills as old-fashioned, too difficult, or too time consuming, you might just find yourself pleasantly surprised. It can be as easy as ordering some supplies and pulling up a YouTube video. By purchasing and storing at peak freshness, you can ensure that your farm hauls (whether from your garden, CSA, the farmers market, or other) will provide many delicious meals for your family throughout the year.
Today, one in three Americans grow food at home, whether it be herbs on their kitchen sill or tomatoes in a backyard garden, but only 8% of the U.S. farms market their food locally. Consumers are demanding a more transparent food system. Food suppliers face the growing demand of consumers who care about food traceability (being able to trace back where your food came from), farm labor practices, and clean eating. Many consumers are reverting to simpler practices that reflect their values about the planet and personal health. The times of small-scale farms providing for communities is returning as consumers demand fresh local food.
At Nectar Farm Kitchen we have created a dining experience focused on sustainable, health-conscious, and locally sourced cuisine. We offer a menu with a wide range of dining options not generally found in traditional farm-to-table restaurants. If you want a unique approach, join us and find out why we are the best farm-to-table restaurant on Hilton Head Island.
We also realize that customers cannot dine with us everyday but want to embrace the farm-to-table concept. That’s why we created this guide to bring farm-to-table to your kitchen. There are many ways to integrate farm-to-table into your daily life. It’s easier than you think. And there’s no question that you’ll be eating healthier, fresher, tastier food. Happy Eating!