Now so over-used as if this culinary trend which actually started 30 plus years ago just landed at our dinner tables, farm to table descriptions of valid attempts by independent restaurants to bring fresh local produce and food systems to their clientele are still growing in number. Yet while creative chefs enjoy utilizing the freshest ingredients, often grow their herbs at their cafes and support local growers as they can, it must be the next best thing but can’t beat the sensible tenets of back-on-the-farm’s honest approach to planting and harvesting for your own table .
I read Meredith Ford making the point “that we must vigilantly support eating locally and seasonally whenever possible. We must support food systems that do not deplete the environment, as Big Ag currently does. We must support the fair treatment of small farms and farmers, and we must support the humane treatment of animals in farming environments. When something as sensible as these tenets – embraced by our grandparents as a way of life – have to be outlined as a cause, something has gone astray in our food system.
To that end, the catch phrases are tossed about like the tender field greens that were just picked minutes ago for your salad. Exaggerations of the truth regarding how “local” locally grown really is and over-used fashionable references to slow food models sell well in today’s market. The nostalgic, guilt-ridden and health-conscious will bite. The consumer must sift through the fine flour of it all, make smart decisions and support and enjoy local whenever possible.
But last night was the real deal. With the warm glow of the farmhouse kitchen in western New York state illuminated from the within where happy conversation was exchanged as our hosts prepared the final stages of our dinner, I couldn’t help but whip out my phone and photo the ingredients I discovered in the kitchen and immediately go out to explore the land where most of those oh so fresh ingredients were harvested just minutes before.
Talk about farm to table – we were living it as our dear friends do every day in their picturesque rural setting surrounded this year by large green walls of corn, their bountiful victory garden and abundant orchards. Hard work, diligence, study, practice, attention to detail, appreciation for the good and bad in nature, all contribute to the successful harvest of each lovingly planted seasonal seedling or many years’ nurtured tree.
The light of the setting sun washed a warm bath of a golden aura over the brilliant green of the corn stalks and other garden delights. I caught still scenes of farm equipment in primary colors – so perfectly yet unconsciously placed ready to do the work of the day. I shot clusters of flowers that banked the side of the house. I walked through the tall grass and stepped on fallen sunflowers, tip-toes through the ruts and rows to capture shots of magnificent golden cauliflower nestled in the center of enormous smoky green leaves, green cabbage with heads the size of basket balls, plump aubergine eggplants peeking from their bushy foliage and pale purple flowers, dark green clusters of broccoli florets and left-over picked sprouts going to yellow flower, beets bulging from the earth with their stands of gorgeous green and red leaves, tomatoes of all shapes and sizes punctuating the greenery with blasts of red and then there was the orchard…
Picture-perfect Americana agriculture on the charming scale that paintings romance – the ladder standing ready for access into the taller reaches of the trees – the perfect picker’s perch. I had to climb up and pick a perfect apple and bite into its crispness with wet juice running down my chin. Now THAT’S an apple! Several varieties of both apples and pears were heavy on the limbs. Bushels of fruit ready to be harvested. Grape clusters that begged to be picked. The freshest of fresh!
Farm to table within feet, it was wonderful. Back inside it was all coming together, we enjoyed home-made wine that was crisp, cool and dry, plump baked chicken and savory sausage by local butchers, fresh mashed potatoes, roasted orange cauliflower and broccoli, freshly sliced tomatoes with basil and arugula and finished with a freshly baked peach pie.
It was an astonishingly intimate experience with good friends and good food. Which makes me realize that if only a pot of basil on your doorstep to make a pesto or garnish a tomato, or plant a row of lettuce in your flower garden we can all benefit from the satisfaction of growing your own on any scale. Do it yourself (DIY) farm to table one step at a time.