Florida Farm to Table, an Explainer

    By Kati Schardl

    Once upon a time, all dining was considered farm-to-table. You – or your neighbors – grew or raised the food that pretty much went straight from the field to the fork.

    But as agriculture became industrialized, more and more eaters lost that link to the soil. Food was something you bought in a store to cook at home. Restaurants increasingly relied on large-scale food suppliers for ingredients, including produce grown on farms hundreds of miles away and delivered via refrigerated trucks.

    In recent years, the tide has turned and more people – foodies, chefs, families and farmers – want to know where and how their food is grown. The slow food movement that arose in Europe morphed into the farm-to-table movement in the U.S.  Books by author/activists like Michael Pollan (“The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” “In Defense of Food,” and “The Botany of Desire”) encouraged people to demand accountability in the kitchen and on the farm.

    Chef Niven Patel displays a couple of freshly picked carrots at his Homestead, Florida farm. Patel is the chef de cuisine at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in Miami's Design District.

    Chef Niven Patel displays a couple of freshly picked carrots at his Homestead, Florida farm. Patel is the chef de cuisine at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in Miami's Design District.

    - Patrick Farrell for VISIT FLORIDA

    Black-eyed pea soup with bacon and lemon thyme croutons made by chef Niven Patel at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink where Patel is the chef de cuisine.

    Black-eyed pea soup with bacon and lemon thyme croutons made by chef Niven Patel at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink where Patel is the chef de cuisine.

    - Patrick Farrell for VISIT FLORIDA


    This is especially true in the South, where farming traditions have remained strong and a host of regional and local cuisines thrives.

    “The South as a whole was farm-to-table before ‘farm-to-table’ was cool,” said Melissa Hall, assistant director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an organization based at the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture that documents, studies and celebrates the food cultures of the American South. “It's how we fed ourselves for several hundred years.

    “Until the post-World War II interstate system, this region was somewhat isolated from the rest of the country, not mention our internal isolation. That isolation is why within a region as vast as ours there are so many distinct cooking styles and native cuisines.

    “At its heart, farm-to-table cooking means taking the best ingredient you can pull out of the ground and then celebrating that ingredient by preparing it in a way that highlights all of its flavor.  For generations, that's how most Southerners cooked (and survived).”
     

    A women inside the restaurant is juxtaposed with a sign in the front window at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in Miami's Design District.

    A women inside the restaurant is juxtaposed with a sign in the front window at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in Miami's Design District.

    - Patrick Farrell for VISIT FLORIDA

    Fresh picked mangoes at Chef Niven Patel's Homestead, Florida farm. Patel is the chef de cuisine at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink.

    Fresh picked mangoes at Chef Niven Patel's Homestead, Florida farm. Patel is the chef de cuisine at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink.

    - Patrick Farrell for VISIT FLORIDA


    Want to know more about Florida’s diverse and deep-rooted culinary traditions? Check out these SFA-produced oral histories and videos:

    There’s a trove of delectable reading on the VISIT FLORIDA website, as well. Head to Florida Food & Dining and bring your appetite.

     

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