On a recent class trip to Los Poblanos, a historic inn and organic farm on the northern edge of Albuquerque, I found a new appreciation for the farm-to-table movement. I have known the basics in regards to efforts within the restaurant business to foster local foodways, but listening to a farmer and a chef discuss their working relationship was truly enlightening. The respect between the man out in the field growing the food and the man in the kitchen cooking the food at Los Poblanos was fantastic because they both express it and passed it on to others – whether it was visitors like us or other members of their staff. It encouraged me to find out more about the farm-to-table movement and what it can contribute to the discussion about sitopia (Carolyn Steele, Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives). At Los Poblanos I think the structure of the inn and the farm store around the food and lavender that is growing on their twenty-five acres is a beautiful example of a micro-sitopia. At the farm-to-table restaurant, people can experience the pleasures of this dynamic relationship.
Most sources that pop up online about the food-to-table movement, also referred to as the farm-to-fork movement, cite its inception in the 1970s within communes that emerged out of sixties hippie counterculture. In these small scale communities, their own farms or nearby farms had to grow enough crops to sustain the people in the group on a daily basis and was essential to the commune’s success. From the commune the farm-to-table movement spread to consumers and restaurateurs like Sarah Waters in Berkeley, California. Waters founded her restaurant, Chez Panisse, in 1971 with a mission to source her ingredients locally and has continued to oversee her founding mission for over forty years. Listen to an interview with her on Fresh Air from August, 2011: http://www.npr.org/2011/08/22/139707078/alice-waters-40-years-of-sustainable-food.
The slow progression of the movement from places like Berkeley to larger cities like Austin, Texas has only recently occurred. While small markets and restaurants in the 1980s and 90s survived, they did not have the social media audience like they do now to cultivate success. I even think the food truck trend might be an extension of the farm-to-table movement if local sourcing is championed by chefs behind the wheel. Locavores, the name for peoples who want to support local foodways, are the new foodies.
However, a recent op-ed article by farm-to-table owner Lynne Curry from the Los Angles Times asked the poignant question, “Has farm-to-table helped the actual farmer yet?” Curry is located in Oregon and part of the successful movement there, yet she knows many local farmers who are barely surviving with the help of locavores. The profits that farmers need to make to be solvent are not coming in and may never unless, as Curry suggests we, “buy local. And then buy some more, regularly, every week, month and year. With enough momentum and time, consumer demand may bring on the substantial infrastructure and policy changes that small family farms need to truly thrive.” (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-curry-locavore-movement-20150208-story.html)
Thinking back to Los Poblanos, they make it work because the entire place struggles and succeeds together. The farmer needs the chef who needs the customer who eats into the restaurant, stays at the inn, or plans an event. Perhaps the secret is to create communities that need one another and value one another for food production and food consumption. Or maybe the secret is in the lavender!