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.
Oh, how they could last.
These frozen dinners were high on the convenience factor, but not necessarily high on quality. We know a family of eight who literally counted coins in the 1970s to meet their monthly expenses, and even they finally agreed that whoever couldn’t stomach the veggies found in these dinners were allowed to throw them away. Seriously.
To pound home our point, we also found an article that shared reviews of ten of the frozen dinner varieties available in those days. Here are the first two of them.
Frozen Sliced Beef Dinner: It comes with beef gravy, buttered peas, buttered corn, and whole potatoes and cost 39 cents.... what a rip-off. That crap looks worse than prison slop. We like it for the tin tray you can use to make one of those tanning things that you always see in the movies.
Turkey Pie (called a “turkey pie of horrors”): Sucker looks like a scary movie poster. Deep in the depths of the turkey hole abyss, there were peas, there was crust, and there was gravy...dun, dun, dun. And that "turkey pie" lettering? It looks like what you'd see tattooed on the back of a rampaging carnie's neck from your view taped up in the backseat of a rusted-out Dodge.
We don’t mean to pick on the frozen dinners of these decades. We really don’t. They were just a symptom of what was going on in society in the United States, overall, and they clearly illustrate what Farmer Lee Jones has been discussing for years—how, largely because of World War II—and the corresponding social, economic and cultural changes that took place—we became seriously disconnected from the sources of our food.
Not surprisingly, though, after a few decades of the convenience-food trend, people began to long for the taste and nutrition of real food, of fresh food, of food where the sources were transparent and were of quality—and from that longing came the farm to table food movement.
Farm to Table Definition
Like so many food movement phrases, there’s no one universally-accepted definition of “farm to table” or its companion phrase, “farm to fork.” In general, though, these are qualifications that are expected to be met with produce given that label:
chefs know where their food comes from in a way that’s pretty specific, rather than just, for example, “from the United States”
they know how the produce is grown (sustainably, for example, without pesticides)
the middleman is cut out, and the restaurant gets the food directly from the farm
the farm grows the food in line with a restaurant’s values
Rutgers, the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station of the State University of New Jersey, gives a more formal definition to the farm to table movement. They define it as “a food system in which food production, processing, distribution, and consumption are integrated to enhance the environmental, economic, social and nutritional health of a particular place.”
Relationship is also a big part of the equation. The food doesn’t automatically and anonymously show up at a restaurant. It isn’t, for example, just a carrot. It may instead be a sustainably grown, ultra-sized round carrot from The Chef’s Garden, one where the chef can order that very specific produce and have it harvested fresh and shipped directly the very same day.
History of the Farm to Table Food Movement
Upserve’s Restaurant Insider published an excellent article on the subject in June 2018, with its origins echoing what Farmer Lee Jones has long said. When people moved off farms in 1940s (and women began flocking to the workforce to replace the men who were overseas), we began to lose our connection to food and its source. Upserve references this era as the processed food empire.
In 1962, Rachel Carlson’s groundbreaking book, Silent Spring, shared the dangers of pesticides, and could be considered a key component of the foundation of the movement, advocating for food being grown in accord with nature. Forward-thinking chefs began wanting this type of produce in their restaurants and people on the fringes of society began to want fresh, unprocessed foods. “The counterculture,” the article shares, “is always ahead of what’s happening in mainstream culture.” Since then, the movement has, with fits and starts, grown to where it stands today.
Issues Driving the Farm to Table Food Movement
Rutgers considers there to be four pillars to the movement that focuses on the ethics of food production. They are:
Another core of the movement is healthy eating and here are insights into each of them.
Rutgers shares how the farm to table movement enlarges what’s meant by food security, moving beyond the food security needs of individuals, or even families, to look at the needs of the community at large.
And, at Roots 2018: Cultivate, attendees were able to hear the brilliant presentation on the future of food by Andrew Zimmern. He is a four-time James Beard Award-winning TV personality, chef, writer and teacher, as well as an anthropologist, social justice advocate and global thought leader.
You can watch his entire presentation here:
Overall, the points he drove home include that science, education and initiative are what’s necessary for a food future that’s both healthy and successful. He believes that no one right solution exists for food security, and he encourages the exchange of ideas among people who truly care about food security and the future of food.
He also shares a paradox. On the one hand, it’s important, he believes, to continue to develop new ways to grow food. Yet, he also believes that it’s crucial to preserve fundamental and native food-ways around the globe because the future of food must also continue to include the cultural importance of shared meals.
“Food,” he says, “is the ultimate expression of the human experience. I don’t think anything is as powerful as sharing a meal and breaking bread.”
The next pillar of the farm to table movement, according to Rutgers, is proximity, stating that the “goal is to develop relationships between stakeholders in a food system, such as ‘farmers, processors, retailers, restauranteurs, consumers’ and more.” They note that a significant goal should be to reduce the “environmental impact of transporting ingredients across states or countries.”
How one defines the local food movement, then, feeds into the definition of the farm to table movement. And, again, at our Roots culinary conference in 2018, there were in-depth conversations on exactly that subject. We invite you to read our entire post on the buy local food movement and watch the accompanying videos found within the post.
Then, in this post, we’ll share two sets of highlights. One is the belief of Farmer Lee Jones that “local” is the most bastardized term since the word “organic.” Why? Because it assumes that local = great, and that simply isn’t true. Even worse, “local” doesn’t always mean that food is being grown locally.
Here is the story that Farmer Lee told at Roots 2018 to illustrate this point. A customer from upstate New York, he shares, told him how he could no longer buy product from The Chef’s Garden. He needed to buy locally, the customer told him—defining the term geographically—or lose his job. So, of course Lee told him to protect his job and, when Lee was in New York, he went to visit him.
During this visit, the man told Lee how the product in his cooler was all from his “local purveyor,” which immediately set up red flags for Lee. Big red flags. And, upon a quick inspection, Lee discovered how the haricot verts were actually grown in Guatemala, the cherry tomatoes were from New Zealand, and the fruit was from somewhere else entirely.
In reality, Lee shares, “He’d actually expanded his carbon footprint by three thousand times.”
In the same Roots panel, moderator Catherine Golding shared environmental-impact conclusions from scientists from The University of Toowoomba, The University of Arkansas and the Queensland University of Technology.
In short, transporting food isn’t the biggest contribution to the carbon footprint, energy or water use in a products lifecycle. In fact, more than 95 percent of this activity takes place on the farms and processing plants before the foodstuffs even get on a truck or in a boat.
What matters, in short, then, is HOW the food is grown, not where.
The third prong of the farm to table movement, according to Rutgers, is self-reliance—and we’d again encourage you to delve into our buy local food movement piece that also addresses this issue.
Defined by Rutgers, the “core idea here is that farm to table food systems exist in a way that doesn’t stifle ‘the ability of future generations to meet their own food needs,’ meaning that it doesn’t destroy resources in the process.”
We couldn’t possibly agree more and, at The Chef’s Garden, we are committed to practicing sustainable farming techniques. At the heart and soul of our sustainability philosophy is our soil. By replenishing it naturally and giving it all the time it needs to become replenished, we are growing the most nutritionally dense fresh vegetables possible, products of unrivaled quality and flavor.
These philosophies sustained farmers for generations, and we recognize, honor and use these techniques to grow crops in a natural, environmentally-friendly way. We use this model and share the belief with Rutgers that we need to grow produce in a way that feeds people of today while protecting the consumers of future generations.
Here’s more insight into how cover crops play a key role. Soil is in fact its own ecosystem, one that we need to keep alive, vibrant, to grow the healthiest crops possible. So, cover crops—perhaps oats, rye, buckwheat and sorghum—are planted and grown for a relatively short time before they are harvested and worked into the soil. This feeds the soil and protects it against weeds without the need for chemicals. The process is repeated as often as it’s needed.
Then, when laying out beds for our vegetable crops, we shallowly till soil, disturbing weed hairs without bringing up weed seeds. These white root hairs quickly desiccate in the wind. This process is also repeated, as needed, so that we can grow healthy, nutrient-dense products without harming the land for future use.
Finally, Rutgers notes that the farm to fork movement also focuses on increasing the health of a community, a concept closely related to what we call Farmacy at The Chef’s Garden.
There is a saying, Farmer Lee reminds us, that was passed down through the generations: you can pay the farmer, or you can pay the doctor. Eating nutritional food is a foundation for health and well-being. And, at The Chef’s Garden, we grow fresh vegetables, herbs, greens and edible flowers that are so flavorful and attractive that you can have flavor AND nutrition AND beautiful plate presentation. Farmacy = you can have it all.
We invite you to see what crops are currently available at the farm, and to contact your product specialist to let us know what you need, and when you need it.