Maybe you’ve recently patronized a restaurant that lists the farms their food came from on the menu. Or maybe you read that Vanity Fair article lambasting chefs who prioritize where food comes from over taste. But is that what the farm-to-table movement is really about in St. Louis? On this month’s Sound Bites, St. Louis Public Radio’s partnership with Sauce Magazine, we get to the bottom of it.
· Anthony Devoti, Chef/Owner of Five Bistro on The Hill
· Meera Nagarajan, Art Director, Sauce Magazine
· Sam Hilmer, Farmer and Owner, Claverach Farm
What is the farm-to-table movement?
“Farm-to-table started out as the consumption of locally-raised food,” said Nagarajan. “Over the past ten years, it has taken on a life of its own—it has become viral, really. Nowadays, you’ll go to restaurants and you’ll see farms on the menu, citing where produce came from and where animals were raised.
“That’s not the end of it. If you go to McDonald’s website these days, you can see who grows their lettuce and potatoes. That’s certainly not farm-to-table. I think at the heart of it is the relationship between chefs and farmers. Chefs sourcing their food from farmers who are in their region and who are raising sustainable and humanely raised food.”
How does it work from the farmers end? How is it different from industrially-raised food?
“To the point of the industrialization of the farm-to-table movement, you look at Chipotle, it’s fast-food and I think they’re going the right direction with that,” Hilmer said. “They’re very much playing up this idea of healthy and sourcing ‘x’ amount locally, still, a lot of their produce is industrially raised. And you’re seeing an E. coli outbreak there.
“Me, as a small farmer selling to a guy like Anthony, you’re not going to see an E. coli outbreak. You never say never, but it is much less likely because the food distribution network is point A to point B, it is not going through 12 very complex steps to move it across the country and across the world. That’s the difference between a small farm to a small restaurant versus an industrial food system.”
Claverach Farm is a family-owned farm near Eureka, Mo. “I realized that I loved to grow things, we had a garden growing up, I grew up on that piece of property and in the late ‘90s started farming there,” Hilmer said. He first sold his food to Cardwells and Riddles Penultimate Café and Wine Bar, which closed in 2010.
The farm also hosts dinners on its property two times a week in an effort to make more money, piggybacking on the popularity of farm-to-table consumption.
How does it work on the restaurant’s end?
“It is literally right to your back door, we know everyone who delivers something to us,” said Devoti. “You go back 100 years and food being farm-to-table…that was food. When I set out to do this as a restaurant, the concept of it being farm-to-table was that I wanted to cook like my grandma and grandpa cooked. It is unnecessary that we’re in the breadbasket of the country, in the middle of America, and we’re getting apples from Chile.”
Devoti’s restaurant has been open in The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis for nine years. He says that he reworks the menu three or four times a week. The restaurant is only open for five days and also includes two gardens. Learn more about Devoti here.
Why should diners care about the farm-to-table movement?
Devoti’s take: “I would like to think it is not a movement—it should be the way that we eat.”
Hilmer’s take: “It is an important part of our culture. Industrial food is going to be with us. We’re not going to change that. There’s a lot of people to feed so there has to be a certain sort of production to feed people. I think that St. Louis and this area need to have this kind of food. It is something that is interesting and beautiful. For the experience, it is important for people and the soul of our city.”
Nagarajan’s take: “As a journalist, it is something you can feel good about, because it is food that is sustainable and humanely raised. From a diner’s perspective, it just tastes better. It’s seasonal, the food is cleaner and it tastes wonderful. If for no other reason, that should be it.”
“Cityscape” is produced by Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer, and Kelly Moffitt. The show is sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.