How "Farm-to-Table" Are You?

August 01, 2017

Calling your restaurant “farm-to-table” makes you particular vulnerable to criticism if you can’t back this claim up.

We have seen buzzwords of the food world run their courses in the same way a fashion trend, a hip night club, and home paint colors can be in one day and out the next. We aren’t talking about the words that have a scientific basis or are defined by the FDA or USDA (like “organic” or “gluten-free”), we are talking about those claims that are not officially defined - think “artisan” or “natural.” 

It seems the restaurant world now is growing weary of one of those buzzwords, and perhaps it’s time for some businesses to lose the claim or actually find ways to back it up and differentiate themselves. That claim is “farm-to-table.”

The food industry is in an arena now where consumers are demanding more and more transparency, and they are policing food companies by way of social media and blogs, protecting the interest of their fellow foodies. So naturally (no pun intended), calling your restaurant “farm-to-table” makes you particular vulnerable to criticism if you can’t back this claim up. 

So what does “farm-to-table” mean? It refers to the processes of agriculture to consumption, the limited presence of middlemen, and is not certifiable in any current form. Here are some of the things consumers may expect with this claim: 

  • The food came to the chef/restaurant directly from the farm where it was grown or produced.
  • No pesticides or growth hormones were used in production.
  • All ingredients are organic.
  • Eggs/Chickens was produced on free-range, cage-free farms.
  • Animals are raised humanely and ethically.
  • All producers involved follow fair labor practices.
  • Sustainable fishing is practiced in order to avoid over harvesting and retain the vitality of our ocean life.
  • All seafood is wild caught, not farm-raised.
  • The honey bee population has not been compromised. 
  • Food is grown and animals are produced on family farms rather than large commercial farms.

There are more implications that could be added to this list, but the point is that the expectations of "farm-to-table" food fall into a wide range of interpretation with many grey areas. It also means that for restaurants adopting this model, production is going to be more expensive, and prices will be higher for products.

That being said, we here at The Lempert Report support any business that practices ethical, humane, fair, responsible and sustainable principles. But we do suggest that should your restaurant or grocerant build on the farm-to-table model, it is imperative that you showcase your efforts in-store, on your website, in social media, and in your mission statement. Even if it is highly unrealistic to meet every expectation possible under this claim’s umbrella, your customers will know where your efforts are authentic.

For example, if you source your chickens from a free-range farmer, show your customers with photos and stories where exactly they come from. Or if you source some of your vegetables from small, organic family farms, show the farm off! Depending on distance, you could even set up occasional tours for select customers. If your seafood falls under the well-known Monterey Bay Seafood Watch guide, make that clear on your menu. Ask your chef to hold Q&As with customers not only to answer questions about your efforts to be a sustainable and environmentally-friendly food maker, but also open up the discussion for suggestions and concerns. 

Efforts made by any food producer from small-scale to large are all important steps toward keeping the food industry mvoing foward with innovation that leads to protecting the health of people, animals and our planet. We say don’t hide those efforts! Your customers will appreciate the transparency and may also be more willing to pay that premium price.