Farm to Table: Good or Gimmick? Part 3: Protecting Your Hard-Earned Reputation

Megan Lynch (@MLynchOnAir)

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – This week, KMOX is taking you inside the growing farm-to-table movement. As you heard in Part 2 of the series, the hurdle for chefs is finding reliable sources.

In this report, you’ll learn some farmers face the challenge of controlling their good name.

Todd Geisert is the fifth generation to farm his land in Washington, Missouri.

“We supply 50 or 60 different restaurants and grocery stores on a weekly basis.”

It’s been a decade of hard work to grow his business and reputation: “Talking with the restaurants, their biggest concern … yes, you can bring that to me today or tomorrow or next week, you know, I need a year supply of stuff.”

He adapted his breeding cycles and his business model. Geisert has gone from just farrowing pigs, to opening his own market — called Farm to You — in an old factory just a half mile down the road from his hog fields.

He shows off fully stocked refrigerated cases — shelves full of local meat, bread, cheese, pickles, sauces and seasonal produce. And it sprouted from an increasing appetite for farm-fresh goods.

Restaurants wanted more than the sausage, ribs and bacon Geisert could provide — they wanted anything he and other family farms could offer. So Geisert’s market has become a food hub.

“As we’re dropping things off, we’re also picking things up and bringing them back to the store here and repackaging it, or distributing it out from there for people that don’t have a way of getting their products out,” he says.

That’s why Geisert says he has great relationships with many area chefs.

But he believes others are trying to bust his chops.

“It’s very frustrating on my side. Restaurants that, they have my name on the menu, but they don’t serve the pork,” he says.

Geisert doesn’t call anyone out specifically, but has used social media to urge customers to check his website for a current list of trusted restaurant partners, and avoid any other establishments using his name.

It didn’t take much digging for KMOX to find an example — a BBQ place in the St. Louis area that featured Geisert Farm on their website. When I contacted them, the owner admitted they’ve switched to a local meat processor with lower prices.

Geisert tells KMOX, his worry is that restaurants are using his name while serving cheaper, lower-quality pork from giant industrial farms.

“It’s frustrating that the customer’s getting blind-sided on some of that; that restaurants are taking the farm-to-table movement and trying to get a premium for it,” he says.

KMOX contacted several farms, and all have had similar experiences.

“Should we be flattered that people are using our name to increase their bottom line and sell their product?”

With Veronica Baetje, the topic truly struck a nerve. Veronica and her husband make award-winning artisan goat cheese on their farm in St. Genevieve County, Missouri.

There’s the time she was with a group at a St. Louis restaurant: “‘Look, my name’s here!’ and they said, ‘Wow that’s great!’ and I said, ‘It is? It really isn’t because they’ve never bought our cheese!'”

In another case, her sales rep’s husband saw the Baetje name on a menu.

“He called his wife and said, ‘Wow honey, you did a great job, I didn’t know you sold cheese to this pizza restaurant.’ She said, ‘What?'”

The owner claimed they’d purchased Baetje cheese at a farmer’s market. But when the sales rep offered them a significant discount compared to those retail prices, they took the Baetje name off the menu.

It’s a small world in restaurant circles. Chefs move and management changes, so producers are sensitive that they don’t burn bridges and shut themselves out of future opportunities.

But Baetje is frustrated with what she calls “token” orders.

“They might buy like four times a year, but boy they sure sell that dish every day in their restaurant,” she says. “They can skip having to pay the price for that product, substitute it with something off the food truck they can get for cheaper, and yet they can charge more for their plate because they’re using our name, and putting that in their pocket.”

How do you know what you’re really being served in a restaurant that bills itself as farm-to-table? It takes some common sense and some digging.

Some tips when we conclude Farm to Table: Good or Gimmick? in our next report.

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