Many buzzwords surround today’s local and organic food market. “Farm-to-table” or “farm-to-fork” come with various associations about what it means to have an experience with food grown in the diner’s own backyard. These experiences may include a pop-up dinner at a farm, a restaurant with its own garden, or a cooking class using local produce. The farm-to-table movement has been steadily gaining popularity over the last 20 years and has gained popularity in the US as public knowledge of local food systems becomes more accessible. I got the chance to speak with topic expert, Fallon Bader, Registered Dietician Nutritionist, and founder of The Sprouting Kitchen who shared with me her re-envisioned model of farm-to-table.
Bader defines farm-to-table as “the experience of tasting and observing where food is grown…giving some background and story to where food comes from. When we know the story behind our food it creates more value and pleasure when we eat it.” The main uniting principles of farm-to-table include; food security, proximity, self-reliance, and sustainability. The movement aims to develop local food systems and accomplish social goals such as fresh food access and community health outcomes.
One caveat is that proximity is not the most important principle and is not, in and of itself, what makes food sustainable. Broadly speaking, buying directly from farmers is associated with positive health, social, and economic outcomes. The Sprouting Kitchen takes all three into account by focusing on 1) community nutrition and access, 2) re-skilling people in the kitchen, 3) creating market equity for local farmers, and 4) reducing emissions by utilizing locally-grown food.
Eating local food is beneficial in many ways, especially for the local economy and climate change reduction efforts. Bader shares that this is because, “when you’re buying food directly from the farmer, the farmer then gets more money directly for their produce when you eliminate the grocery store middleman.” The Sprouting Kitchen supports and increases these efforts by teaching people about their local foodshed; how to access it, support it, and how to turn its products (delicious fruits, vegetables, etc.) into nutritious meals.
In addition to helping farmers and the local food economy, eating locally can also reduce your carbon footprint by limiting miles that food would otherwise have to be transported. An example of this is lettuce which, “takes a lot of water to grow so essentially when we’re shipping greens from those faraway places, instead of getting them locally, we’re shipping trucks full of water.” Growing greens in our own backyard, buying from a farmers’ market, or joining a CSA can potentially cut down on carbon emissions.
Produce from the grocery store is often grown and shipped hundreds or thousands of miles to get to us. “When we buy locally the produce doesn’t have to travel so far, and this can help reduce carbon emissions which in turn is good for reducing climate change.” That being said, it is important to note that “local” does not directly correlate to “sustainable.” Scale is only one factor, and the main aspect of sustainable food is the agenda or motivation of the system or actor to be eco-conscious and pursue certain strategies. The farm-to-table movement is a strategy more than it is about miles traveled, and readers should be careful to avoid the local trap.
The Sprouting Kitchen also considers community health and nutrition as a main goal. Bader says, “as far as health outcomes, as a registered dietitian, I have a focus on nutrition, health choices, and behaviors. We work with NMSU and Presbyterian Hospital to sponsor our classes so that we can offer our classes to high-need populations. We also partnered with Chispas Farm, which accepts SNAP – a form of EBT – on their farm in the South Valley.” This access piece is especially important to consider in the broader scope of foodsheds, food justice, and the practice of farm-to-table. The aim of this project is for anyone to be able to come to a class and leave with the knowledge and skills needed to make healthy, community-oriented, and sustainable food choices.
The Sprouting Kitchen is different from the farm-to-table restaurant experience in that those who sign up for the classes go to a farm, tour and speak with the farmer to learn more about what is being grown and why. After, participants get their hands dirty and harvest the ingredients for the meal they will prepare as a class, only steps away from where the food was grown.
“We hope participants come away with skills, knowledge and recipes that would allow them to have better health outcomes…[by giving skills and recipes] we empower people to cook tasty fruits and vegetables in the kitchen,” says Bader. Re-skilling and empowering participants, coupled with the knowledge of local foodsheds and farming practices can change the conversation about health and nutrition, deepen social connections to our neighbors, and create a vibrant marketplace for locally grown produce that is both nutritious and delicious.
-Posted by Trinity