Thursday, August 25, 2011

From Farm To Table: A Local Tour

It has been a very Farm To Table week here in Virginia.

Herb garden at the Clifton Inn
For the uninitiated, Farm To Table is a local food movement that aims to get food from small farms onto the tables of local consumers through their homes, their schools, and their restaurants.

Probably the most famous example I can think of offhand is Chez Panisse, a restaurant in Berkley, CA that was started in 1971 by Alice Waters.* The notion of a restaurant where all the food was grown locally and organically was pretty radical at that time, but the movement has been slowly and steadily gaining ground and has enjoyed a pretty significant upsurge in the last decade or so.

Last week, the Madison County Farmers Market put on a "farm to table dinner" to benefit the market. Farmers from the market - including us - donated food for a practically 100% local meal. The dinner was held at Prince Michel Winery, who (predictably) provided the wine. Brian, Autumn and I volunteered as servers, along with several other local farmers who work the market.

Then the very next morning, I drove down to Charlottesville to visit the Clifton Inn, a B&B slash restaurant. One of the chefs there buys produce from us occasionally, and had offered to give me a tour of the grounds and the gardens, where he grows some of the produce the kitchen uses. So I went. And he did.

Although the garden was a little smaller than I was imagining, it's exactly the sort of thing I love to see a place like that doing - growing their own food, and sourcing some of their produce locally. A lot of people - everyone from individual consumers to school cafeterias to restaurants - are intimidated when they hear about places like Chez Panisse, who grow and/or buy all of their food locally. But it's okay to start small - growing a squash plant in your back yard, potting a few herbs in the windowsill, visiting the local farmers market and buying a few things a week. I recently read about a school district in Virginia that has the goal of buying 8% of their food locally this year, and gradually increasing that amount to 25% over the next two years. That sounds a lot more feasible than attempting to immediately grow 75% of your own food.

Another bit of Farm to Table news from this week has been the initiation of the newest AmeriCorps program, known as FoodCorps. This inaugural program aims to work with schools to educate youth about nutrition and food, build and tend school gardens, and get more fresh, local produce into school cafeterias.

Ah, if only I were younger and had fewer years of AmeriCorps under my belt.

*Incidentally, Alice Waters was just interviewed on Fresh Air to celebrate 40 years of her career in the local food movement.

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