“Farm to table” has a romantic ring to it, but what does it really mean?
After all, any food at a restaurant, except perhaps for a bit of wild seafood and some foraged plants, is from a farm.
Farms have traditionally grown lots of plants, rotating crops that take nutrients out of the soil with those that replenish it. That includes cover crops like clover and vetch that keep the topsoil in place, but aren’t typically sold for food.
But now, as chefs become increasingly involved with the farms they’re buying from, they’re purchasing cover crops and using them on the menu.
Dan Barber photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Global Green USA
Dan Barber, chef-owner of Blue Hill in New York City and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., is on a quest for great local grain. To encourage farmers to develop the nutrient-rich soil necessary for that grain, he’s buying some of their cover crops, too.
That includes clover, which Barber said tastes like sweeter, more complex pea shoots when sautéed.
Tillage radishes grow deep into the ground, help break up compacted soil and taste similar to daikon. And milky oats produce a milky fluid when simmered and puréed. Barber uses them in a vinaigrette.
“So it’s not the ingredient; it’s the system. And it’s not the dish, it’s the meal,” he said.
Barber only buys a small portion of the cover crops, as some of it has to be used to contribute to the biomass of the soil. But even so, he helps to create a market for those crops, he said.
That encourages farmers who engage in the rotational farming practices that are necessary for great grains — and a sustainable environment.