Farm to Table......... let's talk truth here

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Farm to Table vs. being a locally responsible business

I hear the term Farm to Table on a daily basis, and to be honest, I cringe inside every time. People are so sweet and kind and they get all excited about wanting to discuss our farm to table ways. I almost feel guilty, when I have to correct them and tell them we are not a farm to table operation, we are locally responsible. I get very excited as well, when people talk about sourcing locally, being sustainable, supporting the local economy, etc.. I respect it, I endorse it, I encourage it. We have tomato plants, peppers and herbs at home too and we love to eat as seasonal and fresh as possible. BUT, I think we need to discuss certain aspects of this, so we can all be on the same page.

Being a true farm to table operation requires a ton of work, time, dedication, relationship building, effort, respect, time, time, time. A true farm to table operation, is HYPER SEASONAL! It does not have a produce truck backing into the delivery dock(most don't have delivery docks, most just have a back door) with produce from a large scale distributor or produce company. They have a chef who goes out of his way every day to meet with farmers, cheese makers, ranchers, foragers, etc.. religiously. He writes his menu based only on what's available, what is seasonal and local, and what he can source. Trips to farmers markets and local dairy houses are a norm, fish mongers straight to their back door straight from the boat, truly remarkable. IF anything becomes unattainable, menus get re-written and edited to accommodate this. It is a higher purpose type dedication and it is hard, respectable and honorable work. It is something to truly look up to. Typically, these are not large scale operations and so the flexibility is greater to change as you must.

Being a locally responsible operation, means that you work to source as much local product as you can, when you can. It means that if you can source locally, that will always be your first choice. You are aware of the season and work to be in harmony with what is freshest at the time and what is in season.

  • If you can get awesome heirlooms every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, then you do (love you Curb Market).
  • If a farm down the road has the best grits, cornmeal, corn flour, etc, then that is where you buy it from(here's looking at you Mr. Joe from Oakview Farms).
  • If there is a guy/gal who can supply you with hydroponic tomatoes and bibb lettuce, and cucumbers, well then that's your guy (here is looking at you Rolf from Extreme Green Hydroponics).
  • If there is a local guy for herbs, lettuce mix and beets, and anything else they can bring (EAT South- Jetson, Bern Farms- Eric ) then you make a commitment to support them and purchase, what they can bring, when they can bring it and you work it in to your operation.

That being said, you still need limes, lemons, plain ol' iceberg, potatoes, celery, onions, regular flour, and sugar etc.... these are necessities and well, you have to have them, so you source them, hopefully from someone who cares about sourcing from the US first and foremost, hopefully regionally and hopefully not ridden with hormones and pesticides, etc..

You want to source local fish- gulf of Mexico fish, or in our case Alabama Gulf Seafood (David- Destin co! what's up buddy) then you do, you buy that first. You make those commitments and you stand by them. The gulf of Mexico does not have Salmon, but when your customers want it, ask for it, you get it, from a responsible vendor with un matched quality (Evans Meats B'ham). I know what I am doing, I'm name dropping for a reason.

All of these purveyors are my first go to for what they have to offer, but Sysco and USFOODS, both back a truck up to my back door, and I am thankful they take care of us. Being locally responsible is hard work as well.

This way of operating gives you a strong voice, after all just as you speak with your dollars as a customer, so do we. It also forces large distributors to want to evolve to match the demand. They go out and establish relationships of their own, trying to fill that gap with local/if not regional product. They want to join in on the discussion, they want to be able to sell you what you want.

Alabama raised beef, pork, chickens- yes chef we'll work on it. Alabama grown produce- yes chef we'll work on it, Alabama cheese and dairy- yes chef, we'll work on it. Its not about a movement, or about being the spokesperson for a cause. Its about being responsible and being able to make a difference when and where you can.

As for operators, well its about being honest to your customers. You are not a farm to table joint if you have truck backing up to your door, you're not absolutely sustainable, or a farm incubator, and that's ok. It's ok because you might just be another locally responsible operation and after all, isn't that better than not........

Chef Leo