The farm-to-table movement has exploded in the US, championing fresh, healthy and locally sourced produce. Abra Dunsby highlights the dining halls, restaurants, tours and events driving America’s food revolution
The fast food chain might have had its day in the US – today, the trend for healthy farm-to-table cuisine is quickly taking over. Though the term “farm-to-table” has become overused – and is sometimes misused – real farm-to-table cuisine is cooked with organic, locally sourced ingredients, and has an eco-conscience.
From award-winning restaurants to local foodie tours, we round up the top experiences to recommend to clients who like their food fresh from the farm.
Portland has been named America’s best food city by The Washington Post, and the hip destination is brimming with creative chefs embracing the farm-to-table movement. The surrounding Willamette Valley isn’t just famed for its world-class wineries – its wealth of ingredients provides its chefs with plenty of fresh choices for dishes too.
“Many of the restaurants in Portland are leading the way when it comes to working directly with local farms,” says Malcolm Davies, product destination manager for Funway Holidays. “As a foodie myself, this is definitely one of my favourite places to visit in the US.”
Davies suggests clients combine a stay in the city with a food and drink festival, such as the annual Feast Portland, taking place from September 13-16 this year. Tickets are available online and start from £22pp.
The operator also offers a range of food tours around the city, including the Foodie Field Trip by Bike, during which clients can visit one of Portland’s first food cart pods and sample locally made chocolate, coffee and ice cream.
For oenophiles, the Urban Winery and Farm to Table tour from Cordilleran Tours is a thirst-quenching day out that also showcases the city’s burgeoning food scene. The tour visits three hand-picked urban wineries, with the chance for clients to taste resident artisanal wines alongside small plates of seasonal, vegetable-rich farm-to-table cuisine in a relaxed setting.
In Arizona, clients can take a road trip to enjoy delicious home-grown produce as part of the Fresh Foodie Trail. The trail winds through Mesa – which benefits from a year-long harvest – and beyond into the towns of Gilbert and Queen Creek. Pit stops include the solar-powered True Garden Urban Farm and the Queen Creek Olive Mill, where clients can take an Olive Oil 101 daily tour to see how the fruit is pressed. A Fresh Foodie Guide can be downloaded at visitmesa.com
For clients opting for an escorted tour, Trafalgar’s Western Discoverer trip, which visits California, Arizona and Nevada, is a good option. It includes a “Be My Guest” farm-to- table dining experience in Monterey, where clients will meet Todd and Jordan, creators of Happy Girl Kitchen.
After working on farms for years, the pair now host parties and pop-up dinners, and clients have the chance to spend an evening with them learning about the local ingredients they use.
Yolo County in north California is a vanguard of the farm-to-fork movement. The town of Woodland is home to Yolo Farm to Fork, an organisation that works with schools to educate children about the movement, and features an “edible learning” garden. Meanwhile, nearby Davis is famed for its agricultural college and zero-waste farmers’ market, which takes place on Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons in downtown.
From March to October, the Wednesday market turns into Picnic in the Park, a community gathering with live music as well as food and drink.
Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama was named America’s best restaurant in the James Beard Awards last year, and has been a pioneer of the farm-to- table movement since opening in 1982. The French-inspired menu with a Southern twist changes daily, depending on the availability of regional ingredients from each harvest. Executive chef Frank Stitt and his wife, Pradis, practise what they preach, raising hens and growing vegetables at their Paradise Farm outside Birmingham.
Over in the neighbouring state of South Carolina, suggest food lovers visiting Charleston book a meal at Husk, run by executive chef and native Travis Grimes. Grimes only stocks his larder with ingredients grown or harvested in the South, and has become famed in the region for his dedication to exploring Southern heirloom ingredients.
Dishes are mainly modern twists on the classics, including South Carolina shrimp and choppee okra stew, and Kentuckyaki glazed pig’s ear lettuce wraps with sweet vinegar cucumber and red onion.
Further north, in trendy Denver, Mercantile Dining & Provision is another bastion of the farm-to-fork movement. Located in the beaux arts-style Union Station, this casual restaurant’s menu uses ingredients from head chef Alex Siedel’s farm just outside the city, which features Heritage breed hogs, Italian honey bees, a fruit and vegetable garden and East Fresian dairy sheep. In addition to the restaurant, visitors can purchase goods from the marketplace such as spices, pastries and cheese.
Suggest foodies visiting New England stop for a lunch or dinner at Earth in Kennebunkport, Maine. This restaurant’s rustic interior has brought the outside in – its log walls were built from nearby trees, and an upside-down apple tree hangs from the ceiling.
The menu is just as special, incorporating herbs, vegetables and edible flowers grown in the restaurant’s organic garden, dubbed “The Farm”. The on-site gardener is also on hand to answer questions or offer tips.
While Florida isn’t famed for its farm-to-table prowess, the Sunshine State is improving, and the Twisted Tomato Cafe in Fort Lauderdale is one restaurant leading the charge. The concept is owned by Marando Farm & Ranch founders Chelsea and Fred, who champion healthy farming practices, working with local farmers and lobbying policymakers to promote the importance of eating locally produced food and reducing energy consumption.
Highlights on the cafe’s seasonal menu include free-range bison burgers, veggie flatbreads and vitamin-rich bowls of cauliflower, quinoa and pineapple.
The food hall trend is big news in the US – more than 200 will be dotted around the country by 2020, a number that has tripled in the last five years. “The food halls are often in cool, contemporary settings, with modern furniture, neon signs and food outlets from some of the city’s top chefs – ensuring a high-quality and inexpensive dining experience,” explains Cathleen Domanico, vice-president of global trade development at Brand USA.
Opening in 2020, Frederickburg’s Dominion Public Market in Virginia will incorporate an indoor market and food hall, with innovative restaurants alongside vendors selling fresh produce. Local chefs have helped devise the project, and the building will also feature a culinary teaching kitchen, bar and an outdoor music venue.
Over in Dallas, Texas, clients can head to new mini food hall LC Kitchen in Plano to try out its four stands serving up everything from fresh salads to grass-fed beefburgers. Each restaurant has a strong focus on purchasing ingredients from small, owner-operated farms and ranches within a 150-mile radius.