Bring the farm to your table
Farm-to-table dining is all the buzz—whether in fancy, big-city eateries or elegant country inns. Glossy food magazines have jumped on the bandwagon, too, which means an invitation for a farm-to-table tasting dinner from your gourmet club can’t be far behind. But what exactly is farm-to-table dining? And if it’s such a good thing, is it possible to dine this way at home—where we eat most of our meals—with everyday food?
Participating in farm-to-table eating should be easy, and it should become even easier the more people do it, says Dina Brewster, farmer at The Hickories. It’s finding food that is produced locally; taking advantage of what items do best in the area’s climate, soil, and season; and enjoying simple recipes that highlight delicious natural flavors.
It’s salsa using tomatoes and cilantro from your garden—which, by the way, can be frozen in batches to be enjoyed year-round. It could be pickles from your cucumbers or cider from your apples. As the year goes on and Ridgefield’s local bounty is flush with lettuces, berries, squashes, and fruit, the menu options are countless.
Farm to table also includes meats—Brewster says she’s been busy curing a lot of sausages—dairy products, and grains. The availability of items, sold at local farms and green markets, make it easy for restaurants, local shops, and home cooks to go straight to the source.
The driving idea is to cut out chemical preservation as well as the middlemen who don’t have a stake in the local economy, culture, or ecology.
Sarah Bouissou, of Sarah’s Wine Bar at Bernard’s, loves when she and her chef husband can serve fresh vegetables, straight from the restaurant’s kitchen garden. “It’s noticeably more flavorful,” says Bouissou. “It’s worth having the garden just to be able to see the foods.” It’s not uncommon on a balmy summer night for Bouissou to take diners out back to see the tomatoes or sugar snap peas. There is a “connection” to the food, she says, a shared, vested interest.
While restaurants largely are leading the pack in the latest dining revolution—the way they did with fusion and comfort foods in recent years—the home cook can easily participate. The beauty of farm-to-table, even for picky-eater children, is that the flavors are not built on exotic ingredients or complicated techniques.
Aimee Berger-Girvalo, a locavore who pops green beans pickled with dill sprigs and jalapenos (compliments of Ridgebury Elementary’s garden) like they’re candy, says her children know to look not only for “organic” on as many food labels as they can, but also check food’s place of origin. “The way I feed my kids is not just that I need to get nutrients in them. I need to teach them how to eat to take care of their bodies,” Berger-Girvalo says. “They’re pretty happy with homemade apple-cinnamon fruit ‘leather’ instead of artificial ‘fruit’ snacks.”
Start with one meal a week, Bouissou suggests, building it around a few favorite and easily available flavors. It could be as simple as tomato sauce. Brewster’s nieces are typical pasta-and-sauce kids. The farm-to-table solution? Sauce made with local tomatoes and herbs. (Remember, too, that things such as chutneys, sauces, and cured meats can usually last a long time when properly stored, providing treats in the off-season.)
Because Ridgefield’s climate doesn’t allow for a full farm-to-table diet 12 months a year, Berger-Girvalo widens her net by choosing products that start as close to home as possible—Massachusetts fish is preferable to Alaskan; grapes from California are a better choice than those from Chile.
But going farther afield may become less necessary. As more consumers seek out locally produced foods, more farmers will be able to sustain their livelihoods and offer more choices year round, Brewster explains.
Of course, there’s always the homegrown, do-it-yourself option. “Grow yourself is a great solution if you like a particular kind of squash and you can’t find it at the store,” says Brewster. “You’ll find all the farmers and home gardeners are never competitive. All of us combined are a tiny percentage of what people in this town eat, and we’d like it to be more.