7 Ways To Make Sure A Restaurant's Farm-To-Table Claim Is Legit

Is your farm-to-table restaurant legit? Here’s how to find out.

September 15, 2016
dinner setting
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We started seeing the phrase a few years ago on menus: We source locally whenever possible. The escalation was swift. Sustainable, natural, responsibly raised—the adjectives came fast and furious, along with chalkboards crowded with farm names. Where I live in Florida, there didn’t seem to be enough farms in the area to support all this locavore exuberance. I started calling restaurants on their farm-to-table claims. I asked distributors for invoices, drove out to farms, and tucked fish samples in my purse to be DNA-tested by scientists. What I found ranged from green-tinted embroidery to outright lies—and I wrote about it. My article for the Tampa Bay Times quickly went viral, and what started as a hyperlocal tale of restaurant chicanery ballooned into a coast-to-coast dialogue. The problem of restaurants lying about their sourcing is a national one. Are we doomed to be duped? I don’t think so, but we all need to make an effort if we want farm-to-table to stand for something real. The next steps of the movement start with us.

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1. Know The Cost

Pricing can offer clues about a menu’s veracity. Organic meat costs farmers more to produce. It is, and should be, expensive. You get what you pay for.

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2. Look It Up

You might already have your phone out to Instagram-brag your dinner. Put it to further use: If a chalkboard boasts farm names, do a web search. Does the farm exist? Is it nearby? What do the farmers say they're harvesting now?

the 4 seasons
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3. Understand Seasonality

Know what grows near you and when. Before you go out to eat, check out agricultural extension websites and apps, which give real-time information about what’s in season in your area.

Related: How Seasonal Is Your Diet?

4. Eat With An Open Mind

If you really want to be a locavore, realize that there are things you won’t be eating for much of the year. Say good-bye to fresh strawberries in the winter. (Here's how to eat a more seasonal diet.)

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5. Ask How The Restaurant Defines "Local"

Within city limits, state borders, a day’s drive? 

Related: 8 Eco-Friendly Restaurants That Embrace Regional Dishes

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6. Go To The Source

Chat up your growers. Talk to the farmers at your local farm stands and farmers’ markets. Ask them which restaurants they work with.

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7. Reward The Good Guys

If a restaurant or market makes the extra effort to bring you local products, return the favor by taking that message to a broader audience. Don’t stop at a pretty picture. Talk up where the food came from—and who grew it.

Related: Which Is More Important: Local Or Organic?