It’s not uncommon these days for restaurants to tout their allegiance to procuring locally sourced goods, even citing the sources for everything from their tomatoes to the salt on their menus.
By now, the local and organic food trend is practically passé. But some restaurants don’t just talk the talk; they’re taking local sourcing to a new level by growing their own vegetables and raising their meat themselves. These restaurants have committed to producing high-quality, sustainable food by setting up farms, thereby creating dining destinations unto themselves.
Each story behind these restaurant-farm partnerships is unique, though the motivation was often the same: to create a more direct connection between the restaurant and the producer, and to educate customers and staff on sustainable agriculture.
Olivia Sargeant of Farm 255 in Athens, Ga., explains, "Our goal was to open a conversation on where our food comes from and create a different kind of agriculture."
But as one might imagine, running a restaurant and a farm at the same time is not an easy task. For most, the farm-restaurant relationship is a symbiotic but independent partnership, allowing each to manage its own operations. For others, like Brooklyn restaurant Egg, the farm is an integral part of the restaurant family. Whatever the model, it’s an effort restaurants say is worth the challenge.
So should all restaurants take up the plow in the move toward higher-quality food?
"Our experience has taught us that it’s not easy, said chef Simon Rogan from L'Enclume restaurant in Cumbria, England. "Constant investment and manpower is needed to cope with everything that is thrown at us… but [our advice] is to persevere and remain determined. Having a facility to grown your own food is the most amazing and fulfilling concept that you could ever do."
Others, like Egg founder George Weld, advise that, though rewarding from a product standpoint, the purpose of having their own farm is primarily educational:
"Restaurants and farms operate on completely different time scales," said Weld. "Farms take much longer than restaurants to become efficient and effective. It’s really a long-term investment, and it can be difficult for restaurants to have that perspective."
What matters, most chefs agree, is the dialogue that opens up between chef and farmer, chef and diner, and diner and farmer, about where the food is coming from.
"There’s always the ability for restaurants to have a connection with a farm, whether it’s through a garden, a farm 150 miles away, or a phone relationship; and to educate others via the menu, local schools, or other chefs. Creating this triangle of chefs, farms, and educators is a replicable model," said the folks who run Blue Hill in Tarrytown, N.Y.
We can’t all be a farmer or even be best friends with one, but dining at these nine restaurants with farms could get you one step closer.