With the prevalence of GMOs, super large-scale farming and the complete inundation of herbicides and pesticides, mindful diners and restauranteurs alike are taking good food into their own hands. After its conception on the west coast in the early 1970s, the rapidly growing farm-to-table movement is the answer to a slew of dining disconnects and adulteration — but it has even larger implications beyond simply healthy, local food. A farm-to-table restaurant is more than an eatery — in the communities to which they belong, farm-to-table restaurants are hubs of sustainability, education, cooperation, and growth. Farm-to-table restaurants are (and should be) job-creators, schools of thought-in-practice and a driving force for super-farm independence. In short, a farm-to-table restaurant is the best thing that could happen to a town.
This one is obvious. Done well, your local farm-to-table restaurant should be the best place in town. But that’s not so hard to do. Michelangelo had the Sistine Chapel to work with — of course it was going to be amazing. A restaurant that uses local, farm-fresh food is set up for success simply by the ingredients it uses. Pair that with a talented kitchen, efficient and knowledgable wait and bar staff, and a smart menu and you’ve got yourself a hit.
Farm-to-table restaurants, by their nature are strong contenders among other restaurants. But there is far more to a successful locally-sourced eatery than good food. A talented kitchen furthers its home-grown tendencies by making things in-house. This can include anything from baking bread, making pasta and sausage, butchering and curing meat and brewing their own beer. Menus change with the seasons — offering strong vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options. And they are safe havens for those looking for the full gastronomical spectrum: gourmet meals, home cooked favorites, fresh seafood, big burgers and diverse salads — all local, of course.
Although farm-to-table restaurants rely on the diversity of its crops, community members, farmers and businesses, the main goal is food insolation. There should be a sense of pride attach to owning and patronizing a farm-to-table restaurant. And rightly so. But done right, your farm-to-table restaurant should also be affordable. Sure, you will pay for what you get — hand-crafted, local, healthy food — but in-house production with a no-waste mindset can really cut costs. Farm-to-table does not have to be expensive. After all, the point is not to create a luxury — the point is to establish healthy exclusivity from large-scale food producers. Farm-to-table restaurants exist to bring people closer to their food and the place in which it grows — charging an arm and a leg would only be counter-productive. And any money spent goes directly back into the community from which it came. Economic insolation and exclusivity is the best thing for a small economy. But farm-to-table restaurants aren’t just resources for local food. A true locally-based establishment will cull from all of the resources at its disposal.
This characteristic is one that is both simple and complex. Simple because it is a two-way relationship between local businesses — nothing confusing about that. And complex because the possibilities are endless. There are resources beyond what comes from the ground. And the farm-to-table ideals realize and take advantage of this. Businesses and non-profits, especially small ones, offer services and products that, too, keep money in the community. Your farm-to-table restaurant can offer discounts for employees of these businesses, trade services and products, and function as mutual advertisers.
Education is the difference between a good farm-to-table model and a great one. It’s one thing to provide local food but it’s something else entirely to teach folks where specifically it comes from, how they can provide for themselves, and that they don’t have to spend a fortune on it. Like local business resourcing, the education applications are also limitless. Farm-to-table restaurants can offer classes in cooking and gardening, access to community gardens and farm involvement, healthy eating ideas and ways to mindfully reduce ecological footprints.
If you have a farm-to-table restaurant in your town, support it! You won’t regret it. And if you’re looking for one, check out Dover, NH’s newest farm-to-table brewpub, 7th Settlement. They’re exactly what a farm-to-table restaurant should be.