If you live in a big city and eat out frequently, chances are you’ve been to a restaurant that has established itself as “farm-to-table.” When it comes to this term, you’ve probably found yourself wondering a one point or another, “what does this even mean?” Were the peppers in my omelette picked the other day? Are the eggs I just ate cage-free?

The Original Farm to Table

1960s California had become the wild west once again, a land full of seemingly, easy-going hippies and politically-charged activism like the country had never seen. Berkley, home of the respected University of California Berkley, was a central hub for social movement and just so happened to be the home of a woman named Alice Waters. She would go on to be immortalized for her famous restaurant Chez Panisse. With the help of legendary Chef Jeremiah Towers, Chez Panisse would become the inventor of “California Cuisine” and one of the first restaurants to encompass the ideas of “Farm to Table.”

Waters was inspired by her travels through France, where she saw chefs cooking simple food with fresh and local ingredients. However, she never intended for her restaurant to become the pillar of organic, local food that it had. It happened practically by accident. “When I opened up Chez Panisse, I was only thinking about taste. And in doing that, I ended up at the doorstep of farmers,” says Waters. In that quote perhaps lies not the answer to what farm-to-table is, but why it's important.

Eating Local

Food is better when it’s fresh. If you don’t believe me, you can test it on your own. Head to your nearest supermarket and pick out that unnaturally uniform, annoyingly red tomato. Compare that tomato with one from the farmers market. The plump, beautifully misshapen, inimitably colored tomato, picked at the perfect moment under the summer sun, will win every time, I promise. Farm-to-table starts with the seeds. This is the motto of the head chef at Blue Hill, Dan Barber.

Blue Hill has emerged as the modern-day leader in farm to table. Barber focuses on working directly with his farmers to not only get the best produce possible, but to dream up and engineer new varieties. In an interview with Foodtank Barber says, “Seed breeding is important, because the recipes that I write start with the seed. All chefs want control, and part of the farm-to-table movement has been about controlling where your ingredients come from, how they’re grown, and who’s growing them.”

The Sustainable Food Movement

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Alex Frank

Farm is a restaurant in Bloomington, IN that encompasses all the great things about farm to table. They support local farmers and source as many ingredients locally as possible. The results are both delicious and sustainable: the true goal of farm-to-table.  You can listen to Farm chef Daniel Orr’s radio program on sustainable eating, Earth Eats, on WFIU. 

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Sam Jesner

What does farm-to-table really mean?

It is certainly a buzz term, but it is more than just a simple marketing technique. First and foremost, it is a social movement. It means eating fresher, tastier food and supporting our local farmers. Eaters today are demanding a more sustainable food system, and they are getting it. The more the movement grows the better off we will be. It's no secret that fresher is better so check out your local farmers market, and the next time you're deciding on tonight's dinner, try choosing farm-to-table, you won't be disappointed.