By Chef Julia A. Kendrick Conway for Culination Magazine
Farm-to-table is a big buzzword today in the culinary and restaurant world. It seems every other menu touts a local connection, identifying ingredients by naming the farms that produce them. But how much does the trend really benefit farmers and our local food economies?
Here in the far reaches of Northern California, it has become a reality through the Good Farm Fund, which raises money to match dollar for dollar the EBT coupons used to buy fresh produce in our farmers’ markets, and runs a grant program administered by and benefiting small farmers.
The Good Farm Fund recently sponsored a fundraising dinner at a local ranch, where each farmer was paired with a local chef. 175 guests enjoyed dishes based on ingredients that were grown, raised or produced within the county. The vibrant menu was as diverse as the types of farms and farmers; carrot and beet cake with red wattle ham and summer slaw, carrots roasted with Moroccan spices and served over a carrot top salad, Thai green bean curry with coconut milk and fresh basil and peaches wrapped in pancetta and roasted.
As a caterer, we source local ingredients whenever possible, so it was a pleasure to meet with our farmer and choose what item was in abundance given the season; creating a dish that would highlight its freshness and special character. In our case, it was rainbow carrots, which were roasted within twenty four hours of picking. The carrot top salad was born of the mounds of perfectly crisp greens that remained after cleaning, which were trimmed of their stalks and tossed with vinaigrette of cranberry-pomegranate vinegar and blood orange olive oil. Each serving of carrots was plated atop the salad, allowing the subtle taste of the fresh carrots to carry though both components of the dish.
Many farmers barely scratch out a living, much like chefs, and put every ounce of their passion into what they grow. No, local products are not the cheapest, and you can’t always count on the availability of a specific item, but if you let the aromas, flavors and colors influence your menu, the results can be profitable for everyone, including the customer.
Julia Kendrick Conway is Owner and Executive Chef at Assaggiare Mendocino. She is leading a chef’s life of Farm-to-Table cuisine, while building awareness for the Good Farm Fund.
Article originally published in Culination Magazine.