The concept of “farm-to-table” is popular in the food industry. It seems that this term is popping up as a marketing strategy everywhere, from coffee shops and diners to high-end restaurants.
The problem is, it’s often difficult to determine which establishments are falsely advertising and which are actually putting local food on the plate. Some restaurants market themselves as a purveyor of local food after ordering from a local farm only one time; others advertise as farm-to-table despite sourcing only one local ingredient on the entire menu.
Luckily, there are a number of kitchens in Tucson that are truly committed to using locally grown food.
When Exo Roast Co. opened its kitchen in September of 2016, Owners Amy Smith, Doug Smith and Chris Byrne decided that the food would be seasonal and locally sourced from day one. They teamed up with Pivot Produce, a Tucson-based food hub operated by Erik Stanford. Stanford serves as the liaison between local farmers and the Exo kitchen by building relationships with farmers and buying their products for his clients.
That dedication to sourcing seasonal ingredients means that sometimes, even the most popular menu items have to be removed during certain times of the year. But it also means that almost every single dish on the menu is only made up of local ingredients.
“There’s a global impact that you make when purchasing supplies from all across the country,” said Co-Owner Amy Smith. “We wanted to sort of offset that with trying to be as local as possible with the food choices that we made and the milk choices that we made, even before we opened up as a restaurant.”
Exo isn’t the only kitchen in Tucson that made an early decision to buy and serve local foods. When 5 Points Market and Restaurant opened in 2014, Co-Owners Jasper Ludwig and Brian Haskins knew that supporting local farms and serving customers the best-quality ingredients was an important priority.
Stanford was shopping at the farmers’ market to supply 5 Points, his employer at the time, when he came up with the idea for Pivot Produce. Now, he consults with Ludwig and Haskins about his food hub business.
In addition to working with local farms, Ludwig and Haskins also work with community gardens. Ludwig said that sometimes, people will come in from the community garden with a surplus and trade unique, locally grown ingredients in exchange for breakfast.
Ludwig and Haskins assert that overall, it’s about serving the highest quality food while supporting the local economy.
“The hardworking, amazing people who are doing really intense physical labor and not turning a huge profit to bring good food to a community – these are the people we want to support,” Ludwig said. “I don’t really want to give my money to the alternative.”
Maynard Market Executive Chef Brian Smith shares the same sentiment. Supporting local farmers and knowing that care went into growing the produce is valuable, he said.
In addition to working with Pivot Produce to source locally grown food, Smith has been working to build relationships with local farms. He’s also trying to arrange for his cooks to volunteer at community gardens and farms so that they can become more involved in the community’s food scene.
“I think as a chef, it’s super important … to be considerate of our neighborhood and where we live,” Smith said.
Along with serving food made with ingredients from local purveyors, Maynards has their own small garden, located in the restaurant’s courtyard, where they grow a handful of ingredients like tomatoes, limes and kumquats that they cook with.
“I mean, you can buy mass-produced vegetables and stuff, but the people growing them probably really don’t care about it as much as the guy who literally put the seed in the ground, watched it grow, was out literally every day taking care of it,” Smith said. “And at the end of the day it’s going to taste better no matter which way you put it.”
While not all of the ingredients on these restaurants’ menus are 100% locally sourced, the intent, effort and extreme appreciation that they have for local farmers and purveyors are what sets true “farm-to-table” establishments apart from the rest.
Exo Coffee, 5 Points Market and Restaurant, and Maynards Kitchen are, among many others, doing their best to support the local Tucson economy.
“This is how we’ll change the world, right? In a small way,” Haskins said.