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Farm to Table, a Local Necessity

I tagged along with Rowan Ogden to meet John Lash, owner of Austin’s Farm to Table, a few weeks ago. What’s Farm to Table? Well, when something is coming from a farm and going to a table, even within the same town, there is a holding facility—that’s Farm to Table. This holding facility, the Farm to Table warehouse, is where Rowan and I met Lash. With Farm to Table, Lash is doing the “dirty” work, and I’m not talking:  putting your hands in the ground to grow food. I’m talking about meeting with restaurants, business owners, and school district superintendents to get local food on the table, and buy from local farmers in a bigger way!

In terms of sustainability and LIMITED natural resources we humans now have available, Farm to Table should sound like music to our ears.

John Lash, left

This is an honorable endeavor, no doubt. And, in the near future, Farm to Table will become a necessity depending on how quickly and dramatically gas prices rise. There’s a push to get Austinites eating local, with Edible Austin, and “Eat Local Week”, too, and the farmers markets in the area are successful, judging by the dollars farmers are able to rake in, and the number of people at the markets. (I also love seeing the bumper-sticker “Who’s your farmer?”, to which I mentally respond, my brother, so there!!) I appreciate a certain amount of arrogance associated with eating local. If people take pride in the movement, perhaps, we can really change our food supply chains before we are forced to. (Not that I’m completely cynical about the future of alternative energy supplies.)

While Rowan and I were with Lash, we went on a little field trip to Johnson’s Backyard Garden to pick up some kale. It took us 10 minutes to get to the farm, just outside Austin (you should be calculating the difference in energy output, in terms of natural resources, when getting kale from Johnson’s Backyard Garden versus your local grocer).

When I was bumping around in the back of Lash’s suburban on our way to visit Johnson’s Backyard Garden, I began wondering, how much of Lash’s job is about training the consumer to limit their expectations. So, I asked Lash, if restaurant owners change their menus (demand) depending on what’s in season (local supply). Lash said, “no,” usually they buy everything they can locally first, and then fill in the rest of their menu by buying food elsewhere. So, that’s the status of things at the moment. And, that’s not bad. Lash began mentioning a few restaurants, which use local food include: Eddie V’s, Texas French Bread, and La Condesa. Edible Austin (http://www.edibleaustin.com) has a complete list of Austin restaurants that buy locally.

We looked at maps of Texas with Lash, too; he talked about the difference in elevation and what that means for crops in certain areas. Lash gets all his stuff from 100-140 mile radius of Austin, trucks it in, and puts what has to be held in the storehouse before it goes to the table. His favorite story is about arugula. Usually arugula is held up so long in the transportation process that by the time you open it at your home, or restaurant, it goes bad in a few days. The consumers, however, who get arugula from Lash, find that it has a much longer shelf life. And, let’s be honest, it tastes better, too.

I heard this great quote on NPR the other day. I’m sure you’re aware that a tornado slammed the Mississippi River Valley recently. Farmers are suing the government for losses. Lester Gooden is one such farmer, and he spoke lovingly of the richness of his land in Cairo (prior to the tornadic havoc), saying, “My father, Michele, says, this dirt [in Cairo] is so good, you put a little salt on it, you could eat it.” This reminds me of real food. The food you get from your own backyard, or proverbial backyard (aka a farm within a 100 mile radius of your home); the nuances of flavor are unbelievable. A bunch of spinach is better when tastes like your home, similar to an excellent bottle of wine. And, something extraordinary happens when we are connected to place through food.

Whatever your reasons are for eating locally, acknowledging your place as your local food supply is becoming increasing necessary with respect to peak oil. The next step is getting people to realize that if you live in certain regions, there are certain foods you just can’t have at certain times. In Texas you can get plenty of variety year-round, enough to have a balanced diet. But, seriously, let go of needing to have blueberries, and avocados year-round, it’s just not local!

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