This specific scene, one where the talented duo danced a duet while wearing roller skates, is an iconic part of film history today, and the song is now typically perceived as two people simply pronouncing a word in a different way from one another. In 1937, though, the differences in pronunciation implied that one of the two was more refined than the other.
When you take that tomato (however you pronounce the word!) and it’s sent directly from a farm to the place where it’s served and eaten—without the tomato going to a distributor or a store or anywhere else first—then that tomato and its travels fit into the concept of “farm to table” or “farm to fork”—or, as we say at The Chef’s Garden, Earth to Table®.
We’re not suggesting that one of those phrases is necessarily more refined than the other two. We applaud the movement, no matter which of the three terms you use. Having said that, we do believe that Earth to Table® is a more accurate representation of what we do at The Chef’s Garden because we harvest to order, rather than storing picked produce on our farm and then shipping it when it’s ordered.
In this post, as we delve more deeply into the concept, we’ll use the three terms interchangeably when talking about the general philosophy—while also emphasizing our Earth to Table® difference.
If we could go back in time by a few generations in the United States, our ancestors might very well be puzzled by the whole discussion over farm to fork. After all, they might wonder, what else would you do after you harvested your crops? Sure, you might share what you harvested with other people in your community; that was just the neighborly thing to do. Or, you might can or otherwise preserve a portion for later; and, with your fall crops, you might store some in your root cellar. But, not all that long ago, that’s pretty much what happened to crops. They went from the farm to the table where the family was fed.
That has all changed, in large part because fewer people were living on farms, or even residing in rural areas, as more of the country’s population began living in cities.
Upserve’s Restaurant Insider provides a nice overview of the history of the farm to table movement, and they use the 1940s as the time when people were losing their connection to their food source. This was also when increasing numbers of women went to work in the United States and in other places around the world because so many men were fighting in World War II. Although some women stopped working outside the home after the war ended, this was nevertheless a significant shift in lifestyle, one that made the idea of fast, convenient—meaning, processed—food more attractive to busy families.
Packaged foods in the 1950s, while convenient for families, also continued the momentum of taking people away from the source of their food. In an earlier exploration of the farm to table movement, here’s how we described the processed foods of the era.
“If you grew up during the 1950s, 60s or 70s, there’s a very good chance that, on hectic nights, you were served a frozen dinner or two. These single-serving-sized dinners were packaged in plastic and foil, compartmentalized to separate the mystery meat from the gravy-glopped potatoes from the mushy vegetables. Buy them in bulk. Put them in your freezer.
“When needed, you simply heated some up and you had dinner! And, if the middle was still a bit hard and cold, well then, you just stuck them back into the oven and heated them up some more. Don’t need the dinners right away? No problem. There may be more ice crystals and freezer burn when you finally got around to using them, but they would last. And last.”
And, for fun, here is a review of a “Veal Parmagian Dinner” of the era: “We love the spelling used for parmagian. In our heads we're pronouncing it par-may-gi-en. But this meal really won our hearts and minds with the small print full disclosure on patty makeup. The "Breaded Veal Patty" is made out of veal, beef, soy protein concentrate, water, rehydrated onions, sugar, salt, MSG, spice and garlic powder.”
Now, to be fair, not everybody thought that this was a good way to eat. Some people still traditionally farmed, while others still grew produce in their home gardens. And, in the 1960s and 1970s, there were some people who were already raising concerns about the state of our food system, worried about pesticides being used and recognizing what had been lost over the past few decades. But those people were clearly in the minority, often considered to be part of the counterculture of the day.
Fortunately, from that time until today, there has been significantly more attention placed upon the importance of a food’s source and the Earth to Table® concept. Enough? No, probably not. But there is encouraging momentum.
Like so many terms, there is no one “right” way to define it. Here are some to consider:
“There’s no centralized criteria by which farm-to-table is defined, but generally, if you know the farm or ranch your product came from, if you know they’re raising their crops or livestock without added hormones or pesticides, and if you are cutting out the middleman by bypassing commercial vendors, you’re eating farm-to-table.” (Thrillist.com)
“Farm-to-table is a phrase that can mean different things to different people. At its heart, farm-to-table means that the food on the table came directly from a specific farm, without going through a store, market, or distributor along the way. It is not a regulated phrase, so it can be employed by anyone who considers their offerings to fit the definition.” (TheSpruceEats.com)
Of course, like with any term, it can sometimes be used in ways that aren’t really accurate. If, for example, produce at a grocery store is labeled as farm to table, that doesn’t really fit the spirit of the phrase—but it’s happening. And, if it’s being used at a place where food is served—and the establishment doesn’t know the precise farm where the food was grown or raised—then that isn’t really an accurate use, either.
At our 2018 Roots culinary conference, we offered a panel titled “Cultivating a New Perspective on the Buy Local Movement”—which is a topic that Farmer Lee Jones has strong opinions about. Having said that, the discussion included plenty of solid research results, as well.
First, it’s Farmer Lee’s belief that “local” is the most bastardized term in food systems since “natural” or “all-natural.” For one thing, “local” is often used as if it automatically equaled “great” (which is doesn’t) and, perhaps even more significantly, local doesn’t always mean that food is even grown locally.
One customer from upstate New York, for example, could no longer buy product from The Chef’s Garden, because he was told that he needed to buy food locally, geographically speaking. And, when Farmer Lee visited him after this switch, he was shown food from a “local purveyor,” including haricot verts from Guatemala, cherry tomatoes from New Zealand, and fruit from somewhere else entirely.
This man, Farmer Lee shared, had actually increased his carbon footprint by three thousand times—all by “buying locally.”
Then, Catherine Golding, the North America Business Development Manager of Meant & Livestock Australia, shared results at Roots 2018 from a study that is flipping people’s understanding about food transportation and the resulting carbon footprint upside down.
This research was conducted by scientists from The University of Toowoomba, The University of Arkansas and the Queensland University of Technology. And, here is Catherine’s summary: Transport “isn’t really the biggest contributor to the carbon footprint, energy or water use in the product’s lifecycle. The majority of this activity [more than 95 percent] takes place on the farms and processing plants before the product even gets on a truck or in a boat.”
You can read more about these conclusions here. And, here is what the panel focused on during the Roots conversation; the importance of:
food traceability and transparency
how and where food is produced
how ethically it’s produced
how environmentally sustainable the food production is
quality, quality, quality
At The Chef’s Garden, we focus on regenerative farming practices, ones that go beyond “just” being sustainable to ones that focus on making the soil even better than how we originally found it.
To help the conversation, here’s a definition of regenerative agricultural that can be used as a starting point. These systems follow ecological practices that “rejuvenate the soil, grasslands and forests; replenish water; promote food sovereignty; and restore public health and prosperity—all while cooling the planet by drawing down billions of tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil where it belongs.”
Now when you combine the use of regenerative agricultural practices with transport systems that are farm to table, then you have a greatly improved-upon food system.
When you attend one of the Culinary Vegetable Institute events, you are guaranteed, of course, to be eating food that was directly sourced from a farm, because produce is from The Chef’s Garden. Plus Executive Chef Jamie Simpson also focuses on making thoughtful choices when sourcing other ingredients and on having a minimal-waste kitchen.
Plus, there are also plenty of quality restaurants around the country and world that are in a direct relationship with a farm. These restaurants benefit because of the freshness and quality of the produce when it’s delivered directly after being harvested, such as what we do at The Chef’s Garden. Plus, they can share a transparent storyline with their diners, letting them know exactly where the food was sourced and how it was grown.
Our customers can share how the crops from The Chef’s Garden are products with a purpose, ones grown by a conscientious group of people in a regenerative fashion. They can share how they’ve chosen to buy from a farm with a mission to redefine sustainable agriculture in the United States.
At The Chef’s Garden, we’re creating a template that will attract, inspire and retain young farmers. We’re not just focusing on the now, on this generation of farmers. We also want to provide the support, encouragement and information necessary to the next generation so that they can also value, protect and, as needed, restore our country’s farmland.
We want the legacy of The Chef’s Garden to be the establishment of a national farming framework that will ensure safe, sustainable agricultural practices that will protect and enrich consumers of produce for generations to come.
If you agree with this philosophy and want to support growers who practice regenerative farming, and who provide top quality Earth-to-Table® service, then we invite you to look at what crops we have available right now.
Everything that we do on the farm is integrally linked to the conversations we have been honored to enjoy with chefs for over thirty years. Our success is born from the like-minded work and sustainable farming philosophies that we share with our customers and is derived from a steadfast will to not only survive, but thrive, in agriculture.
This abiding commitment to deliver the highest quality, most nutritionally dense and flavorful fresh vegetables, microgreens, herbs, edible flowers and more direct from Earth-to-Table® and our willingness to listen carefully to a chef’s needs is what motivates and enriches our work and inspires us each and every day.
If you’re a professional chef who is interested in becoming a customer, contact us today!