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A farm-to-table restaurant is a restaurant where the ingredients are sourced as locally as possible, which means that they tend to be very fresh, and they have been through a minimal series of middlemen, if any, literally going directly from the farm to the table. The farm-to-table restaurant trend is part of a larger movement to eat as locally as possible, taking advantage of seasonally available fruits and vegetables and focusing on the environmental and cultural impacts of farming. As a general rule, farm-to-table restaurants readily identify themselves, as the farm-to-table concept is considered a selling point.
In a classic arrangement for a farm-to-table restaurant, Restaurant A contracts directly with Farms C, D, E, and F for its produce, fruits, vegetables, and animal products. It is common for restaurateurs to travel to the sites of the farms they use, to meet the farmers and see the environment in which the food is grown and animals are raised, and the farmer agrees to select products as they ripen and send them directly to the restaurant. In some cases, chefs even travel out for the harvest, selecting the cream of the crop for their establishments.
The obvious advantage of this system is that the food arrives in an extremely fresh state, often picked only hours before. Fresh food tends to be of better quality, and the short traveling distance allows farmers to pick foods at their peak, when they will taste the best, rather than being forced to harvest food before it is ripe to ensure that it will make the journey.
Eating locally is also perceived as environmentally-friendly, because it generally requires less resources than important food from other regions, and, as a result, people are willing to pay a premium at a farm-to-table restaurant for locally sourced foods. Some people also like the sense of local connection which comes from eating locally produced foods grown or raised by people known to the community. For the chef, a farm-to-table restaurant can also provide a steady supply of interesting and intriguing ingredients, forcing the chef to come up with a new menu every day to accommodate the food available, reflecting what is in season.
Sourcing locally also has an advantage for the community. Farmers tend to get higher prices for their products when they sell directly to the restaurant, while restaurants can negotiate lower rates by working with the farmer directly, rather than going through distributors, wholesalers, and warehousing companies. A farm-to-table restaurant also keeps money in the community, contributing to positive financial growth and promoting the local economy.
There is an amazing restaurant close to my house that offers true farm to table dining. They have a very limited menu that only features local, seasonal, organic and sustainably soured meat and produce. The menu is so limited because they are very committed to their ethic. There is only so much that is available seasonably at one time and you have to be willing to work within that limitation.
The food is amazing of course. Any chef that has that kind of commitment to quality ingredients is going to find delicious and inventive ways to use them. I try to eat there at least once a month because the menu evolves so much.
I always wonder how sustainable farm to table restaurant really are. I know that they get as many of their ingredients from local sustainable sources as they can, but what about the ingredients that they can't get? When you look at everything that goes in to making a restaurant menu happen there is a lot more than just meat and veggies.
What about the flour and the eggs? What about the spices? What are we to make of the Australian wines that have obviously been flown in? I do not mean to cut these kinds of restaurant down. I really admire what they do. But I think we should admire them more for the quality of the food then their contribution to the environment. Running any full service restaurant, no matter where you get your beef from, is going to have a negative effect on the world.
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