Farm to Table: Good or Gimmick? Part 1: What is Farm to Table?

Megan Lynch (@MLynchOnAir)

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – A growing number of Americans are concerned about where their food comes from and how it’s produced. In the restaurant industry, that’s given momentum to a movement called “Farm to Table.”

KMOX’s Megan Lynch spent the spring and summer months traveling to farms and restaurants in the St. Louis region. This week, you’ll learn what “Farm to Table” is, and how to know if it’s being done right.

Field-raised chickens, grass-fed beef, artisan cheeses, fresh produce — Missouri and Illinois have a wealth of small, family farms.

“The farm-to-table movement, I think is intended for local restaurants to be supporting small-scale farmers in our region that grow nutritious food, and ideally are using environmentally responsible practices,” says Melissa Vatterot, food and farm coordinator with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

The idea of farm-to-table matters to consumers for different reasons.

For some, it’s the idea of keeping their hard-earned dollars close to home. For others, it’s the attraction of getting super-fresh meals.

And Vatterot says many do have the environment in mind: “That’s the goal, is that consumers and the restaurants know where the product came from, and then can know how it was grown, so it might not have the pesticides or the chemical fertilizers that might be used oftentimes on larger farms in faraway places.”

You may be familiar with some of these small local farms from weekend markets and roadside stands. Now, you’re seeing many of them featured prominently on chalkboards and menus where you eat out.

For restaurants like Winslow’s Home on Delmar in St. Louis, there’s an increasing demand for accountability in menu choices.

“I think that it’s pretty clear that young parents now spend a great deal of money on clean food — they do vote with their pocket book,” explains owner and operator Ann Lipton.

Winslow’s Home is a restaurant and general store, with floor-to-ceiling shelves, refrigerated cases, and a bakery counter stocked with products from local vendors.

Lipton would never call her restaurant farm-to-table, even though she owns the farm that supplies the kitchen.

On a sunny spring morning, she invites me to hop into her utility vehicle and tour her five-acre homestead in Augusta, Missouri.

Before planting one vegetable or herb, Lipton spent years cultivating cover crops to restore the soil. Everything she does with her land is intentional and sustainable – down to the flock of goats her farm managers raise to be Mother Nature’s lawn mowers.

“We are always working towards improving the soil and the growing conditions for our plant crops,” she says.

Twice a week, they truck the latest harvest to the chef at Winslow’s Home — produce and herbs Lipton says are free of toxins and absolutely fresh.

“The fact we are able to grow varieties and allow them to fully ripen on the field accentuates the flavors a great deal,” she says.

But the farm can’t supply all the needs of a busy restaurant, so they have to look for other sources.

That’s why even though much of what’s on the menu comes straight from the field, Lipton won’t say her restaurant is organic, local, nor farm-to-table.

“I can’t be 100 percent confident 24-7 that something’s coming from a small family farm.”

That’s the challenge for most restaurants hoping to go farm-to-table — making sure they can find what they need to make that claim.

“Sometimes we have to cut ties with a supplier because every time they promise that we’re going to have this much lamb or this much this, and then two weeks into it they can’t bring it,” says Jenny Cleveland, Cleveland-Heath, Edwardsville, Ill.

That’s in Part 2 of “Farm to Table: Good or Gimmick?”

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