The Farm-to-Table movement is now ubiquitous in Northern California, where you can access fresh food direct from local farmers and ranchers via farmers markets, CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) programs, and meat share programs. You can sometimes find local food (grown within 100 miles) in grocery stores. Restaurants, and even catering companies, tout their sourcing of local ingredients for delicious fare. Without doubt, supporting local farmers who use ecological growing methods is healthy for the planet and our bodies. But is purchasing and eating local, sustainable food the best we can do?
As Dan Barber, notable chef and author of The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food (Penguin Books, 2014) writes, “Farm-to-table may sound right – it’s direct and connected – but really the farmer ends up servicing the table, not the other way around. It makes good agriculture difficult to sustain.”
At Mendocino Meats, we have always wanted to connect eaters to the land that feeds us, and the land we farm can only support so much agriculture. The larger food system, government regulation, and the landscape of processing and distribution also restrict our production. A Farm Driven restaurant understands these physical limitations of the land and the economic realities of farming.
The Golden Pig is striving to be a farm-driven food establishment, so there is no single chef who drives the menu. Creating the menu has been a collaboration amongst the owner, the manager, the cooks, and us farmers. It takes time and communication between the farm and the kitchen to nail down a new recipe. We farmers hear what customers really want to eat, and we inform the restaurant what we are able to raise or grow. Not only does The Golden Pig source locally, but the restaurant invests in the farm, sometimes making advance payments to help us cover our costs to produce the food for the menu.
While we are able to sell primal and retail cuts, selling whole animals is most efficient for us. The Golden Pig recognizes this and purchases whole animals – currently pork and chicken from Mendocino Meats and beef from Magruder Ranch. Many meat eaters prefer select cuts, but all cuts of the animal must be utilized and eaten at The Golden Pig. Thus, the farm drives the menu. For example, the pulled pork and hot dog are menu items that grew out of the need to utilize the entire pig, as well as cull sows (retired female breeder pigs).
There are many categories of food and farming now. Regenerative, organic, biodynamic, and carbon are just a few farming labels. Management of the land and how animals are raised are important to the discerning locavore. Along with ecological sustainability, the social and economic sustainability of the farm should be considered as well. After all, if we want to see local farms into the future, the farm as a whole must thrive. Working with The Golden Pig, we are getting closer to being a sustainable farm business.