Farm to Table

by Erin Thursby
These days people are more conscious about where their food comes from. Individuals are making an effort to buy local produce because it’s fresher, more eco-friendly and it supports the local economy rather than some far-off country. But these farms need to count on more than just the whims of the local population. They can’t grow too much of anything without knowing for sure that it’s going to be purchased. That’s where local restaurants come in. As more restaurants such as ‘town, Taverna, Matthew’s and Bistro Aix order more from local farms, those farmers can provide more because they know they’ll have a market for it. Since these farms also set up booths at local farmers markets, the individual also benefits because there are more farms and the farms can grow a few unusual crops without worrying about losing their thin profit margin.
At the Toyota sponsored Farm to Table event, restaurants paired up with local farms, whipping up dishes for the patrons at the Riverside Arts Market on March 12th. Participating restaurants included Bistro AIX, Burrito Gallery, Capital Grille, Chew, Fionn MacCool’s, Marker 32, Orsay, Speckled Hen Taverna and Uptown Market. Not only did these restaurants create dishes with ingredients from local farms for this event, but they also use these products for dishes on their menu.
Restaurants choose local farms for a lot of reasons. First, it’s because their produce doesn’t travel, giving them several benefits– the quality of the produce doesn’t lose anything by traveling, they aren’t paying extra for shipping and they support local farms. “In these tough financial times we see businesses closing daily and I believe it has never been more important to support your local businesses,” says Kiley Efron of Taverna. Another benefit is knowing exactly what goes into the meat and produce. They can visit these farms, making sure that the items are sustainable and are grown organically.
Certain items can’t be local because they just don’t grow well here. You won’t find excellent pears, for example, within a 100 mile radius of Jacksonville. Restaurants are always interested price and quality, so they go local when the quality of the item is best on a local level and isn’t outrageously expensive. If an item is too expensive, the price goes up and less will be ordered by patrons. So this balance is important, because the marketplace (what diners will order at what price) partially determines what restaurants will buy.
Some restaurants are willing to go to that higher price point, as long as they can also offer the best in quality. “We feel it is the right thing to do and know that our guests appreciate the fact that we are making these decisions to bring them the very best we can get,” says Chef Tom Gray, Executive Chef and Partner of Bistro AIX. “The difference it can make not only in the flavors but also the nutritive value of the foods is considerable, not to mention the benefits to the planet by choosing to support local and sustainable producers.”
You can support local farms by choosing to eat out at one of these local restaurants and paying close attention to who provides what on the menu.

Tips on Eating Out Sustainably
–Go to a locally owned business rather than a chain
–Look for particular providers on the menu. Generally, when a farm or a provider is mentioned, that means that the provider is either well-known or local. Ask.
–Get to know the names of your local farms so you can spot them on a menu. Black Hog, Twinn Bridges, Four Hearts Farms, Cross Creek Honey and Sweet Grass Dairy are just a few to look for.
–Ask a manager if they use local farms. If they do, keep coming back.