What Came First: the Farm or the Fork?

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Photo by Margaret Davenport

If you walk around all sectors of Richmond—the West End, Northside, Southside, and or the East End—on a sunny Saturday in early fall, you’ll find find some common factors: farmers’ markets, new “farm-to-table” restaurants, and stores selling organic produce and products. There is a health revolution sweeping through America, and people are beginning to focus on where their food comes from and what it’s made of. CBS News named Arlington, Virginia, a city just under two hours away from Richmond, one of the top “hipster” cities in America. “Hipster” is a term that sometimes describes those who reject mainstream fashion, music, political ideas, and food. In essence, you will probably not find a “hipster” at the McDonald’s drive-through or grabbing a frozen meal from your nearest large brand supermarket (unless they’re doing it ironically).

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Photo by Derek Bennion.

“Hipsters” are known for browsing farmers markets and making homemade meals. Not surprisingly, since Arlington is in such close proximity to Richmond, the trend of organic, house-made meals has spread into the Richmond community. “Know your farmers, love your food” is the motto of an East Coast restaurant group, Tazza Kitchen, with six locations, two of them in Richmond and one in Arlington. (Full disclosure: The author’s father is one of the group’s co-founders and owners.). Tazza’s website describes the fare thusly: “The seasonal menu highlights ingredients sourced from dozens of farmers and food artisans, wood-fired cooking, and influences from Southern Italy and Baja California”. Tazza Kitchen is known as a “farm-to-fork,” or “farm-to-table” restaurant. This means that the majority of their ingredients are sourced from local farms. Tazza Kitchen isn’t the only restaurant in the area to support the farm-to-table movement. Places such as Toast, Blue Goat, Pasture, and Comfort all utilize locally sourced products. So what makes local food better, and why is it becoming more popular?

These two answers go hand-in-hand. Why are “farm-to-fork” restaurants popular? Besides their connotation of being “hipster” and “cool,” they are healthier for you and support local businesses. Recent social protest of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), such as modified zucchini, corn, and salmon, have raised questions about the health effects they may have on the consumers. Many people believe that GMOs are toxic, can cause allergic reactions, and can lead to fatal diseases. With new information coming out every day, such as the recent report done by the World Health Organization that states certain types of meat may cause cancer, the idea of knowing who grew your food and exactly where it came from has become more and more appealing. This also lessens the chances of you digesting unknown pesticides and buying from inhumane slaughter houses. These are all contributing factors that make local food more and more popular.

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Photo by Margaret Davenport.

For those in search of local, better food, you can find it in a multitude of ways. You could simply go out to eat at a “farm-to-fork” restaurant, or you could take a hands-on approach by going to one of the many farmer’s markets around Richmond and buying your own produce straight from the farmers. Some of the most popular farmer’s markets in Richmond are the St. Stephen’s Farmer’s Market, the South of the James Farmer’s Market, the Byrd House Market, and the First Street Farmer’s Market. While all of these are great places to shop, they can  also be more expensive. However, just because you do not have extra money to spend on extra fresh produce doesn’t mean you can not get it. There are many health promoting programs around Richmond City. One of the most notable ones is run by a nonprofit organization and farm called Shalom Farms. They have a volunteer-run farm just outside of Richmond that sells to certain farmer’s markets and Ellwood Thompson’s, as well as sending food to poorer communities. In these neighborhoods, small stands are set up where residents can go to their doctor and get a prescription for the fresh produce they need for the week to help them stay healthy. If time is your issue, and you don’t have a free moment to stop by a farmer’s market or restaurant, there are co-ops you can join which will either deliver the produce to your house or to a nearby location once a week. Overall, organic and local produce is becoming more accessible everywhere in Richmond, regardless of your social, economic, or physical life.

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Photo by Derek Bennion.

By having local food become a part of the Richmond community, it encourages everybody to eat and buy from the farms that they know. It is slowly seeping into our culture, becoming a part of every community member’s life. The more attention it gets from large groups of individuals, the more popular eating “farm-to-fork” gets. So, to say local food is popular because it is good for you is actually correct. Although it may seem like a social phase, such as whipping or the Ice Bucket Challenge, eating “farm-to-table” is much more than being “cool” or “hipster.” It’s about a nationwide movement to create healthier lifestyles and to improve the food industry. A movement which will, potentially, shape the future of America.

About the author

Margaret is a senior at Collegiate.