Farm-to-table (or farm-to-fork, and in some cases farm-to-school) is a social movement promoting serving local food at restaurants and school cafeterias, preferably through direct acquisition from the producer, who might be a grower, rancher, brewery, winery or even a fishery, not necessarily a “farmer.”
Local produce usually needs less transport, handling, refrigeration and time in storage. By selling in an outdoor market, the cost of land and buildings is also reduced or eliminated.
Some farmers/producers prefer the simplicity, immediacy, transparency and independence of selling directly to consumers. Some also offer consumers the option of paying seasonally or monthly to receive weekly or biweekly boxes of produce, providing predictability for both producer and consumer while also spreading the risk of crop failures.
Benefits of Farmers’ Markets to Communities:
- Farmers’ markets help maintain important social ties, linking rural and urban populations and even close neighbors in mutually rewarding exchanges;
- Market traffic generates traffic for nearby businesses;
- Buying at markets encourages attention to the surrounding area and ongoing activities;
- By providing outlets for local products, farmers’ markets help create distinction and uniqueness, which can increase pride and encourage visitors to return.
Reduced transport, storage, and refrigeration can benefit communities too:
- Lower transport & refrigeration energy costs;
- Lower transport pollution;
- Lower transport infrastructure cost (roads, bridges, etc.);
- Less land dedicated to food storage.
Farmers markets may also reduce the social distances between urban and rural communities.
Benefits of Farmers’ Markets to Consumers:
- Reduced driving and parking;
- Fresher foods;
- Seasonal foods;
- Healthier foods;
- A better variety of foods, e.g.: organic foods, pasture-raised meats, free-range eggs and poultry, handmade farmstead cheeses, heirloom produce, heritage breeds of meat and many less transport-immune cultivars disfavored by large grocers;
- A place to meet neighbors and engage socially with growers and others;
- A place to enjoy an outdoor walk while getting needed groceries.
Part of an increased understanding of the importance of maintaining small, sustainable farms on the fringe of urban environments, farmers’ markets in the U.S. have grown from 1,755 in 1994 to 4,385 in 2006, to 5,274 in 2009, to 8,144 in 2013.
Farm-to-table often incorporates a form of food traceability (celebrated as “knowing where your food comes from”) where the origin of the food is identified to consumers, including in restaurants.
Advocates and practitioners of the farm-to-table model frequently cite the scarcity of fresh, local ingredients; the poor flavor of ingredients shipped from afar; the poor nutritional integrity of shipped ingredients; the disappearance of small family farms ; the disappearance of heirloom and open-pollinated fruits and vegetables; and the dangers of a highly centralized food growing and distribution system as motivators for their decision to adopted a more locavore approach to the food system.
Let’s celebrate our local food producers by attending any buying at our local farmers’ markets this summer.