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In times past, exotic ingredients from far-off lands were a powerful selling point on any menu. Nowadays, diners are far more likely to seek out establishments that feature ingredients sourced as locally as possible, and it is a rare restaurant that doesn't highlight its regional produce.

Why the change? It has to do with the rise of the farm-to-table (or sometimes farm-to-fork) movement, which is one of the most popular food and restaurant trends for 2014.

The advantages of knowing where your food comes from

In light of recent scandals concerning the labelling of certain foods - not to mention ongoing concerns about additives, pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) - people are increasingly keen to know exactly where their food comes from and what's in it. The theory is that by buying local, you have a better chance to observe directly the conditions under which your food is raised and to get to know the farmers responsible, thus building confidence and trust that nothing scary is sitting on the end of your fork.

People are also more aware of animal welfare issues, and hence like to know that the animals that end up on their table have lived a comfortable, natural life and been slaughtered humanely. Not only is this more ethical, but many argue that it also improves the taste and quality of the meat, leading to a superior product that raises fewer moral dilemmas.

Health benefits of hyper-local food sources

There is also a strong case that food sourced from nearby is healthier for you. Local food proponents argue that food grown on a smaller scale by local producers is more likely to be raised according to organic principles, with natural methods of fertilisation and pest control used in place of chemicals. Because the food isn't transported long distances to reach its intended market, it doesn't have a chance to lose nutritional value during refrigeration and transport, and is more likely to retain a vibrant flavour that won't require extensive processing to enjoy.

Indeed, as most locally-produced foods are not heavily processed, they're less likely to contain the high levels of sugar, salt and trans fats that can contribute to serious health issues, making them overall a healthier choice.

The environmental case for locally-sourced food

Growing and purchasing foods locally often has less impact on the environment as well. Because food isn't being transported long distances, it has a smaller carbon footprint, and there is less likelihood of spoilage and waste in the process. As mentioned above, small-scale local farmers are also less likely to douse their crops with chemical herbicides or pesticides or to inject their animals with antibiotics or growth hormone than are mass-producing corporate farms.

A farm-to-table mentality also encourages crop diversity in the local area and leads to less soil exhaustion; it also presents significant benefits for local economy, as farmers are more likely to get a fair price for their output if it doesn't have to go through multiple middlemen. Being able to offer distinctive local produce also helps put a destination on the agritourism map, with further economic benefits, and this in turn can help encourage the preservation of regional specialities such as unique breeds, dishes and crops.

Incorporating farm-to-table in your restaurant or kitchen

For all these reasons, farm shops and markets are steadily growing in popularity as consumers seek out fresh, flavourful produce that they know has been produced ethically. Increasingly, they are also looking for the same level of quality and responsibility in the establishments they frequent.

As a result, many restaurants have started to form business partnerships with local farmers and food producers, or indeed have started to produce some of their own food on site or nearby. This could be as simple as a few herbs and vegetables in boxes on a windowsill or terrace, or could involve a more extensive kitchen garden or even chickens, pigs and other livestock being raised by the owners. Some restaurateurs also run vineyards or breweries, or produce their own honey, dairy products or preserves.

Not only does this help guarantee the quality and flavour of the ingredients to hand, but it has excellent marketing value in attracting both agritourists eager to try local specialties and regular consumers who want to support their local economy while obtaining the best food possible. While some consumers and businesses do worry that local produce will prove more expensive (especially if it's organic), in fact purchasing food that is in season and doesn't require extra transporting, processing and intermediary sellers means that it is often available at a much better price, especially if purchased wholesale.

Chefs and restaurants do need to be flexible when using predominantly local produce; different ingredients will only be in season for a set period of time, so menus need to change frequently in order to accommodate this and keep things fresh and interesting. Many enjoy the challenge, however, and the frequent updates can encourage repeat custom.

British restaurants adopting farm-to-table

More and more restaurants are incorporating elements of farm-to-table, both in Britain and around the world. Even in such unlikely locations as London, there is still scope to serve up fresh, organic fare from local producers. For instance, The Shed in Palace Terrace Gardens is run by two brothers who feature a variety of produce from the family farm in West Sussex on the daily-changing menu, and The Dairy Bar & Bistro in Clapham Old Town sources its food from local suppliers and its own urban garden.

Further afield, Peacock Farm in Bracknell, Berkshire has its own pub and restaurant, which alongside food produced by local family-run businesses, also serves ales crafted in its own brewery. The Field Kitchen at Riverford Organic Farm in Devon features produce from their own on-site gardens in a menu that changes daily, while the Hayloft Restaurant that forms part of Bodnant Welsh Food (based at Furnace Farm in the Conwy Valley) makes use of ingredients from the farm's own gardens, bakery and butchers.

This is just a small selection of the many farm-to-table establishments springing up across the country – a quick search will likely reveal a restaurant near you.

Are you getting on board with the farm-to-table trend?


Lockhart Catering on 3 March 2014 1:00 AM

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