Where Did Your Produce Sleep Last Night?

I really can’t remember when I first heard about the farm to table concept.  It could have been three years ago reading “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”; watching Top Chef or maybe it was just cruising random food blogs.  Regardless, I was taken with the concept and quickly began implementing it at home.

For the uninitiated, farm to table is a philosophy that embraces a sustainable approach to agriculture and dining. At its heart, the concept is simple: there is value in eating locally (which also means seasonally.)  Nutritional value and community connections are also enhanced.

A farm to table restaurant will partner with nearby farms and food producers in order to offer an ever-changing menu that is both unique and has a strong community connection.  The idea is that such food is fresher and healthier because it did not have to travel long distances or be sprayed with life-extending chemicals.  It’s also less burdensome to the environment since the amount of fuel used to transport produce down the street is significantly less than in flying it around the world.  In general, the fresher the produce–and the quicker it arrives on one’s dinner plate–the more nutrients it retains.

While it’s relatively easy to shop at farmers markets and source local ingredients for home cooking, it’s much more of a challenge to find restaurants that practice this philosophy – especially in an age when corporate profits, nationwide chains and generic concepts rule the dining landscape.  Granted, there are a number of farm to table restaurants in San Diego, but I live in the northernmost part of the county.  Driving 50 miles to eat isn’t exactly convenient or sustainable.

However, Stone World Bistro & Garden in Escondido is relatively close to home and I love their food.  They have a HUGE garden right on the property and their menu is constantly changing.  In fact, they buy their lettuce from the same woman that I do!  (Side note: that lettuce must get around because just a few weeks ago I was eating lunch in a local cafe and I recognized the lettuce.  I asked the owner if his purchased his lettuce from Peterson Specialty Produce.  His jaw literally dropped to the floor and he wanted to know how I knew that.  I just laughed and told him I buy mine from Patricia too.)

Which brings up another point: buying your produce (and meat if you can get it) allows you to create connections with the growers (and other buyers.)  It is through the connection to the land, and the people who work the land, that the farm to table movement comes full circle.

When I visited Columbus, OH a few weeks ago I was truly taken with the sheer number of restaurants, food vendors and merchants who sourced their food locally.  I wasn’t in town for more than three hours and I found myself at North Market, Columbus’ indoor, year-round market.  I was thrilled with the selection of fresh meats, fish, produce, bread, cheese, spices and so much more.  But my hands down favorite was Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. I’m pretty sure I’ll be dreaming about the Salty Caramel ice cream until the day I die.  (But I also tried the Wildberry Lavender and The Buckeye State.)

The next morning we had breakfast at Skillet, whose motto is “Ingredient Driven Comfort Food with an Edge.”  I was kinda wondering just what ingredients I was going to get in Ohio at the end of February but I was pleasantly surprised.  I had an amazing “stinky cheese” omelet topped with brussels sprout hash.  It may sound weird but it was sooo good!  And, it was a wonderful example of using what God gave you to create a tasty meal.

The following afternoon we stopped at Northstar for lunch.  Their commitment to sustainability goes far beyond food.  To quote from their website, “We make conscious decisions about the kinds of locations we choose, the way we build our restaurants, the carryout containers and operating supplies we purchase and even the organic cotton t-shirts we wear in the cafes.”  Wow!  I can only hope that more restaraunteers begin taking this approach.  And their food wasn’t bad either.  I’m seriously considering writing, calling, emailing or sending smoke signals to Northstar for their cold wild rice salad.  I don’t think I’ve tasted anything as fresh, surprising or filling at a restaurant in a long time.

I truly believe that by taking lessons from the ways in which communities historically sourced and consumed food, and adapting those lessons to modern times, we can change the way we dine out.  Next time you’re in a restaurant don’t be afraid to ask your server where your food came from.  You just might be surprised – for better or for worse.

3 comments on “Where Did Your Produce Sleep Last Night?

  1. Susan Weisberger
    March 18, 2011 at 9:44 am #

    I remember when you came down to help me when I was having all the surgery on my mouth.
    (thank you big help)
    I had put in a salad garden,( I don’t have a lot of room to garden.) Tomatoes, lettuce. cucumbers, onions, garlic, peas, and peppers and more. You had a great time coming up with a new salad every day. 🙂 That was fun.
    In my neighborhood, my garden is a photo op! lol

  2. Harry Weisberger
    March 21, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    How many servers in a typical “regular” restaurant would even know?


    • Heather
      March 21, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

      I guess if they don’t know then that’s a good indication of where their food came from. In my experience, most servers at farm-to-table restaurants like to brag about it and will be more than happy to share details.

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